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Fear (but no loathing) at the Gong Show

I never watched the Gong Show. For those of you who may not have been watching TV in the late 70”s, the The Gong Show was an amateur talent contest broadcast on NBC‘s daytime schedule from June 1976, through July 1978. It was syndicated later and revived for a 10-week run in 2017 on ABC.

In the late 70’s  I was a journalist in Asia and doing my best not to get thrown out of Singapore for writing stories the government did not like (I left in 78 after it was strongly suggested that I do so), and I was not watching The Gong Show  or anything else on American TV.  So, when I agreed to be a judge in a local Gong Show re-creation for charity, I did not really know what I was getting in to.  After all, it was judging music, which is what I do as a music critic.

Gong flier

That’s me at the end

Well, not exactly.  As a radio host and music writer, I am separated from my listeners and readers and artists by a microphone and/or a computer screen.  Rarely do I face my audiences and talent up close and personal.  But The Gong Show Karaoke presented by the Lakeside Karaoke Singers, which I am judging, is in front of a large live audience in the upscale Spotlight Club.  Worse, there will be people in the audience that I know personally, like my wife and her friends and the entire staff of the local newspaper I write for here.  And, I know some of the contestants – all of who are accomplished singers. Worse, the beautiful woman who is the chief judge orchestrating the process is a professional singer and really knows what she is doing.  People pay me not to sing.

The judges, Master of Ceremonies, and producer all met yesterday at The Spotlight, sorted out the program and the judging process and the criteria for gonging people.  Then we toured the stage.  At that point, I took a good look at the empty chairs as far as the eye could see (well, at least back to the bar) and remembered they would be full of people second-guessing my gonging.  To make matters worse, the MC said he was wearing a tux, the Chief Judge a black formal gown and my other judge his theatrical clothes.  My plan for shorts and t-shirt went out the window and I will have to haul out the boxes of Hollywood clothes I thought I would never use in Mexico.

But what I am really thinking hard about is gonging people out of the contest.  While I write reviews of bands and artists every week, I only review those that I like.  I figure there is no reason to waste words or electrons on bad talent or no-talent and the market will pass its judgment soon enough (except maybe for K-Pop, but that is another La La Land).  But The Gong Show Karaoke I have to actively douse people’s hopes, loudly, in front of a big audience.  And then face them later, perhaps around the neighborhood.  And did I mention they are all accomplished singers?


The Stage I will be on.

I have my judgement categories: vocal skill, audience connection, timing, pitch, preparation, interpretation, mic use, song choice, other stuff (costume, stage presence) which are pretty much the standards I use as a music critic, except for “song choice” and “interpretation”, which are really up to the talent in my world.  I see about 100 bands and artists a year and I usually know within the first 30 seconds if they are any good.  But since the 15 people who have made the cut as contestants are all very good the first 30-seconds option is out the window. Maybe I will gong an artist because she is not perfect and no one will come on later who is better and I (and she) will wish I had not gonged her.  And she will not be happy and likely neither will the audience or other judges. Or maybe none of us will gong anyone and the night ends with no one winning, and 15 people onstage. Then what?

So, what would you do?  Just keep your head down, assessing points, and gong only if someone makes a big mistake?  Or let the other judges do the gonging since presumably, they know better than I do? Or just gong away and not worry about it?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments?

Patrick O’Heffernan





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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (414 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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