We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.
On Miscellaneous Mondays, we talk about whatever happens to pop into my head—or any suggestion you may have made for a topic. Today’s post is a bit longish, but I hope you’ll bear with me.
As I was editing my “About” page the other day, I decided to mention how much my wife and I enjoy cruising. While I was at it, I mentioned that I won the ship’s karaoke contest on our last cruise, and I was going to link to the blog I thought I had posted about it sometime in the past. In a major “DUH” moment, I came to realize I’d never written that post. Well, for what it’s worth, here it is:
As a young boy, I sang with the predecessor of the Texas Boys Choir for three years. When my voice changed, I sang in a couple of operas, and through the years I’ve sung solos in several churches. But perform on a stage as a single act? Nope.
Well, actually, I did once. In junior high school, I tried out for a talent show. All the other kids who tried out either played an instrument or had friends accompanying them on instruments. I didn’t play anything, nor did I have a close friend who did, so I sang Buddy Holly’s “Party Doll” a capella. Talk about a lead balloon. My entire singing career died that night.
Where was karaoke back in the 1950’s when I needed it? Hadn’t been invented yet, leaving me to perform in front of my car mirror and my showerhead. They never booed.
For some reason, I’ve been slow to adopt the idea of karaoke. My first exposure to it came in 2001. As a part of a skit at my high school class’s 40th reunion, I dressed in a white Elvis suit (believe it or not, back in high school, I looked a lot like him) and sang “Treat Me Like a Fool.” Although I was well received, I attributed it to the silliness of the skit. Besides, I was very nervous, since I’d never even seen a karaoke screen before.
A while back, the Activities Director of the retirement home where my mother lived started a monthly karaoke night. When I heard about it, I decided to join the fun. Good decision. A group of old folks who can barely hear anyway is a very forgiving audience. They always cheered me, and over time I began to get comfortable with the mike and the spotlight.
The Zaandam, the ship on which my wife Sharon and I cruised to Hawaii, had several karaoke nights, so I decided to participate. Then they had what they called the Zaandam Superstar Contest. Using the format from American Idol, they had each of us sing one song, which a panel of four judges then critiqued.
For the semi-finals, I wasn’t too worried about most of my competition. Everyone had a good time, but half of them couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Mario was the only one whose voice I thought might be hard to beat. He sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and did it very well, but his stage presence was a bit stiff.
Then a lovely young lady named Mariana got up. She arrived a few minutes late, because she’d participated in an earlier event called The Pub Crawl. She felt no pain, nor did a couple of dozen other pub-crawlers who came in with her. Their cheers raised the roof when she got up to sing, and audience reaction is one of the things they judged on.
Mariana moved around the stage like a seasoned pro, pointing at various men with her index finger and generally evoking support. While not wonderful, her voice was good. I knew she’d be hard to beat.
Only one of the judges, a young lady named Natalie, was a professional musician. The others were the Cruise Director, the Purser and a volunteer from the audience. I decided to pay particular attention to Natalie in hopes she’d influence the others.
I sang “I Fall to Pieces.” It’s an easy song I’m comfortable doing. Since I’m familiar with the words, I only needed to glance at the karaoke screen once in a while. The rest of the time, I roamed and picked out various women at random to sing to.
Our stage was the dance floor of one of the ship’s nightclubs, leaving my back always to some part of the crowd. In order to sing to people behind me, I had to turn my back on the judges, but I decided it was a risk worth taking.
As I finished, I knew I’d sung the song well. I’d felt comfortable on the stage, but I didn’t know how the audience and the judges would receive me. The ovation let me know I’d done okay with the audience. No wild cheers like Mariana, but an enthusiastic ovation.
Natalie, the one pro on the panel, made my heart beat a little steadier when she gave me tops marks in all categories. The two men gave me good feedback also.
That left Lizabeth, our Cruise Director. She complimented my singing, but she told me I’d sung to every woman in the place except her. Not exactly true, but I hadn’t zeroed in on her.
In announcing four of our names as finalists, they called mine second, but they pointed out that they were listing us in no particular order. As I figured, Mario and Mariana both made it, but I was surprised to hear Theresa’s name included. Nice lady, but a weak voice. I think they liked her dancing and her looks.
They announced the finals would be held in the ship’s theater—a much larger venue—on our last day at sea. As we gathered, I saw the others had all dressed up. Mario wore a dress shirt and tie and shiny shoes. Theresa wore a nice pants suit with a knee-length duster. Mariana had somehow poured herself into a beautiful matador suit that emphasized her Hispanic features and showed off her figure very well. I almost wanted to vote for her myself.
This time Lizabeth and Natalie were both judges again, along with a Hawaiian guy who had presented several informational programs on the cruise. A lady selected from the audience joined them.
One of the judges commented on how good Mario looked and complimented him for dressing up for the occasion. After a halting start, he did a good job of “Cuando Cuando,” but his stage presence appeared a bit stiff once again.
Theresa went next. For not having a really good voice, she did a good job, and her stage presence was better than in the semi-finals.
I began to wonder if I was up to this when Mariana took the stage—and I do mean she took it. It belonged to her as she moved around pointing to one man after another. If she’d had a little better voice, I might have given up.
They’d had us pick a fast song and a slow one, and then they arbitrarily selected one of the two for us to sing. I didn’t know “Luckenbach Texas,” my fast song, nearly as well as “For the Good Times,” so I felt very fortunate when I heard the latter announced.
As I walked up onto the stage, I knew I had to do something to offset the advantages of the others. Mariana was nearly 40 years younger than I—not to mention beautiful. Mario and Theresa were both ten or fifteen years younger and much better dressed. What could I do?
I knew Matt, the emcee, would ask me a question or two before starting the music, so when I got the microphone, I ignored him and addressed the audience. “How would you like to be 1500 miles from home with nothing to wear but tennis shoes, jeans and a knit shirt and have to compete against all that?” I pointed to the other three, sitting together at one side.
I knew the question carried a risk. I could come across as whiny and making lame excuses, or I could get the audience on my side. I felt like I’d succeeded in swaying them, since they laughed at that and applauded several times during the song.
As with “I Fall to Pieces,” I knew my words and cues well enough to ignore the karaoke screen almost entirely and concentrate on the audience. The first person I directed attention to was Natalie—still the musician of the bunch.
Me Singing to Lizabeth
After singling out several women in the first few rows, I returned to the judges. This time I walked over to stand directly in front of Lizabeth, and when I held out my hand, she took it. Likewise the lady from the audience.
When I returned to center stage, Matt ran over holding out his hand, so I took it for a brief moment, too. Then I went back to directing myself to individual women in the crowd.
I figured I was in pretty good shape when I got to the chorus the second time through. As I sang, “Lay your head upon my pillow . . .” Lizabeth rose from her chair and ran over and leaned her head against me.
From the ovation when I finished, I felt like everyone in the place was with me—and Mariana didn’t have her cheering drunks this time.
All three women gave me excellent reviews. That left the Hawaiian man. I had no clue what to expect from him. He had told Theresa he liked her stage presence and her dancing, but he also told her not to give up her day job. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard him tell me to give up my day job and do this professionally.
Despite being underdressed and overaged, I won. Guess it’s true: old age and trickery beat youth and enthusiasm. Might not have been the Grand Ole Opry, but for that moment in time, I was designated as the Superstar.
Me Holding My Big, Impressive Prize
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