It is not unheard of for a person to say that an entertainer changed and influenced their life and got them through a difficult time. Depending on the situation, it raises the stakes of how connected you feel to that person—and for me, the stakes were high.
From the time I was 11 years old, I was a huge fan of JoJo. Her music got me through the toughest parts of my young life, then and now. But it wasn't just about music. I also had a massive crush on her, thus realizing I was queer...and that scared the hell of me. My life was already complex as a person with a disability, and I felt I was adding something else "wrong" with me to the mixture of my already complicated life. Still, JoJo and her music remained my constant source of happiness, and I remained a loyal fan through all my years of growth and heartache, as well as her years of record label troubles and killer mixtapes.
I had a horrible time navigating my sexuality, and there was a time where I didn't think I'd live through the coming out process. I lived in the South at the time (so I was not comfortable) and I knew that people with disabilities were desexualized, so I struggled to think it even mattered. When I finally came out in October of 2006, it was shortly after JoJo's second album, The High Road, was released, so it seemed as if she was just there in perfect timing. I don't know what it was that made me feel content with finding some solace in her, but I've always felt comfort in music so it just made sense to attach myself to her during one of the most difficult parts of my life. One of the things that excited me most about going to see Jo was that a big part of her fanbase identified as LGBTQIA+, so I knew that seeing her on tour would be like going to giant musical family reunion.
I knew that going to one of her concerts was on a list of things I wanted to do, but had given up due to location, money, accessibility, and other things. But in October of 2016, after her long-awaited third album Mad Love was released, the Mad Love Tour was announced and I was completely stunned that Buffalo, NY (my hometown) was on the list for a show on April 23, 2017. I was amped as fuck! I thought I'd already missed my shot in the August prior, when she was on tour with Fifth Harmony.
To add to my excitement, I took it as a sign from the universe that pre-sale began on December 5, the day before my 24th birthday. I made an impulse decision and bought the ticket. I double checked with the venue (countless times) to make sure they were wheelchair accessible. When it arrived in the mail, I taped it to inside of my planner and started a countdown on my phone for that very night. I called up my long distance best friend, who's concert date was before mine and told her not to tell me a damn thing about the show. She agreed. Fast forward to the Sunday before the concert, I double checked all my arrangements, and I was ready to jump out of my skin!
But the Universe wouldn't be the Universe without some kind of curve, and that curve began the Thursday morning before the show. One of my best friends (and my concert partner) told me she wouldn't be able to attend the show with me. It was sad, but I have good folks in my life so instead, I invited my in-home aide to join me. She had never even heard of JoJo, but she was down to learn.
The morning of the show, someone in my city had declared it JoJo day on Twitter, and it felt too good. I started getting ready at around 5 pm and I called for a cab at 6, knowing and informing them that the doors of the concert venue open at 7. I had bought an outfit just for this occasion: Black skinny jeans, blush colored K-Swiss shoes, my favorite long, spring jacket, and a fist almost completely covered in rings (think of a black, queer, disabled Inspector Gadget). I was ready, except my cab wasn’t. 6, 6:30, 7, and nearly 7:30 came before a cab actually got to my apartment. Then my driver got locked out the cab and we had to wait on a repair guy to come unlock it. I was nearly ready to give up on the night and had started to get out of my outfit, but my mom wasn't down with letting me give up so easily. She knew that I wanted this for such a time, so when the repair guy finally came to unlock the cab's doors, I rolled myself into the cab and was ready to go.
By some miracle, we made it to the show 30 minutes before JoJo went on stage.
Up until the moment we parked, I was filled with anger and anxiety, but once I was at the venue, all of those feelings faded. I remember looking at her name on the marquee and feeling like a kid does when you take them to a giant candy store. I'd never been inside this particular venue (Buffalo's Town Ballroom) before, so when I got my wrist band and walked in, I marveled for a moment at the sheer brightness of the place. Most folks were already situated, so I didn't have to worry about getting anxiety because of too many people. I saw the bar, I saw JoJo's team setting up a merch table off to the side. Then I saw the door to the show, got my hand stamped, and went through the door. A security guard had radioed someone, saying he had a wheelchair coming through. I found that strange until a few seconds later when another security guard from outside the venue came and found me and moved some folks so that I could have a great view of the show on the balcony. I remember being scared about not being able to see anything since it was a "standing room only" venue, but the Universe finally gave me a break, and I was officially ready.
For the first time that night (but not the last), I smiled. I felt like I conquered something. I made it happen. I deserved it.
When JoJo finally came on the stage, I had to remind myself that my television screen was no longer separating us. It was extremely surreal. It almost felt like I could only hear her, the band, and no one else. I was so chill that when the guy behind got really drunk and started singing off key in ear, I didn't care. I was entertained. Through the years I had convinced myself that this moment was never going to happen—but it was happening.
As I was getting ready to leave the show, and JoJo was giving the crowd her end speech and she called us the "special sauce." That is, the thing that makes her experience extra enjoyable. It hit me that that's exactly what this concert had been for me: the thing that made my queer experience worth it. Because the person that guided me through all of that became real the moment she stepped on the stage.