My Childhood Heroes Sang & Cooked: My Top Four

I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood heroes and role models.

I recently started a part-time job assisting a nonprofit that matches youth with mentors with their communications and programming. Therefore, the topic of role models and childhood heroes is often swirling around in the forefront of my mind.

This past weekend, the Academy Awards aired on the same night that my cousin took me to the Luke Bryan concert at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. These events made me reminisce about the celebrities that I looked up to during my childhood. 

My childhood role models revolved around food and music, two of my earliest obsessions (besides writing, of course). Here’s my first four:

  • Trisha Yearwood

Trisha Yearwood was my first favorite musician and thereby, my first role model.

I became best friends with a couple gals in elementary school who introduced me to the world of country music during those early years when song lyrics start to mean something. They were obsessed and so I was, too.

The very first concert I ever attended was Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at the Target Center in Minneapolis. We dressed up as cowgirls and I found my old ticket stub.


As you can see, I noted that it was, “The best!” Can you believe this lower level ticket only cost $21.50? I suppose it was 1998.

I had ALL of her albums and knew all of the lyrics. I think I still do. The first song I ever fell in love with was, “On a Bus to St. Cloud,” of which the first line even says, “On a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota. . . ” This song permanently etched the city of St. Cloud into my memory and built it up as mysterious place I had to visit someday.

Living in Fargo gave me the perfect opportunity to visit St. Cloud. On a solo road trip between Minneapolis and Fargo in 2012, I stopped in St. Cloud and visited the White Horse Bar & Restaurant for a spicy Thai burger, of all things. It felt cathartic.

I was disappointed to find I just missed Trisha Yearwood perform at Mystic Lake Casino on the 1st. If I actually got to meet her, I might squee or cry or both.

Anyway, you might have seen Trisha Yearwood’s cooking show on The Food Network. It’s kind of kooky and she treads on Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade territory with many of her recipes, but it’s Trisha Yearwood. She sings and she cooks – in the same show! I wish there were more musical cooking shows. Can this please be a thing? Let’s make Jeff Mauro work for his money. . . actually, maybe not.

  • Barbra Streisand

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I come from a musical family. I started piano lessons in first grade, sang in church choir and received a scholarship to play the french horn in college. My early claim to fame is having been cast as the Von Trap family’s adopted Korean daughter Brigitta as a freshman in our high school production of The Sound of Music. I hope Babs would have been proud.

My mom’s parents instilled their love of music in my mom and they played the piano and sang whenever an opportunity arose. We often played the pianos in our grandparents’ nursing homes so residents could stop by and sing along. Although my grandma had severe dementia, she never forgot the lyrics to every verse of her favorite hymns.

We also grew up watching musicals. I borrowed from my mom’s extensive cassette tape collection of which she must have owned every single Barbra Streisand album. They became my favorites and I sang along with them as I listened to them on my boom boxes and Walkman.

  • Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple’s album Tidal released in 1996 was the perfect cure for my hurting, awkward, angry adolescent heart.

  • Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been a fan of Anthony Bourdain since he wrote the book Kitchen Confidential (2000) that launched him into the spotlight. The Food Network used to air his travel show A Cook’s Tour long before he appeared on the Travel Channel.

A Cook’s Tour was gritty for its time. Like No Reservations, Bizarre Foods, and the stunning beautiful Parts Unknown, his most recent series, he visited both developed and developing countries and explored their food and culture. He also swore, drank and smoked on camera which freaked my parents out and made me appreciate him all the more.

Although I’ve read travel memoirs and travel guides since I was old enough to ride my bike to the library, I credit Bourdain for really awakening and feeding my wanderlust. I wanted to explore the world as Bourdain did in A Cook’s Tour, by appreciating local culture, history and customs and not being too standoffish to actually engage in them with those he met along the way.

I am thankful to my childhood heroes for awakening my passions for food and music and providing inspiration during those difficult times when the little me had a hard time envisioning that things would get better. Of course, I had many others role models, but this is the celebrity edition.

Who’s on your list?


  1. Beth Ann Chiles

    I LOVE this post!!! Especially the adopted Korean daughter Brigitta picture and reference!!! Awesome!!! I am sure Babs would be proud . The celebrity edition is wonderful. I think our parents would have gotten along famously—mine loved musicals and basically all things music even though neither my mother or father played an instrument we were always surrounded by music. There is nothing better than music to take you back in time to a memory of what was going on when that song was playing or where you were when you first heard it, etc. LOVE this post, Jeni. I am smiling ear to ear.

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks Beth. It was so fun to write. I mostly wrote it because it was a fun process. I liked your Sound of Music picture you posted, too when it was on television.

  2. Cristen

    I love this post for so many reasons! Love the Jeff M. comment and the fact that you can play French Horn OMG! I’ve always thought that looked like it was the most difficult thing EVER! Great post!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks Cristen. It’s been fun exploring your blog:)

  3. Scott

    As a teenager of the 80’s, for me it is any of the early rap (Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J) that got me through some of those tougher times. Although I have to admit a good does of Journey, Pat Benetar and Billy Joel helped too.

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks for sharing. It’s fun hearing who people were inspired by growing up. Those are all amazing artists. It’s funny how music sure sticks with you after decades.

  4. Kristen

    I Also really love Feona Apple. :)) We must be the same age.

    • Jeni Flaa

      We must be:) This type of blog post totally dates us.

  5. Jantina Wennerstrom

    I had just as much fun reading your post as I did the comments. I literally laughed out loud at the same age comment! 🙂 I haven’t pondered my musical role models much lately – this post makes me think I should!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Thanks Jantina. You’ll have to let us know when you think of them.

  6. Kelli @ The Sustainable Couple

    That Trisha ticket stub cracked me up! Only because I know I have a Mark Chestnut ticket stub from 1997 somewhere in the attic. Bahahahah!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Oh my goodness, you’ll have to remind me his hit song back then. I’m sure I’ll remember it!

  7. Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek

    “the Von Trap family’s adopted Korean daughter” Cracks me up!

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