A couple of weeks ago I wrote here that I had been tapped to judge the first, and apparently not the last, Karaoke Gong Show for Charity in Ajijic Mexico. The show went on last week and it was quite an experience for me and a success for the charities involved.
First, the experience. As I wrote here earlier, I never watched The Gong Show during the decade it was on the air (1978 – 1989). Nor did I watch any of the reruns or later remakes. It was just not in my music world. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I mounted the stage at The Spotlight Club and took my place at the judges’ table. With me was chief judge Cindy Paul, a professional singer, and Wayne Watson, a professional musician. They knew from talent.
The event filled up early with ticket holders arriving before the doors opened to claim great seats and a few people appeared asking to compete (they were too late – the lineup had been set weeks earlier). Many of the contestants brought friends and family who occupied “cheering sections” for contestants. Ed Tasca, a local newspaper columnist and character at large served admirably as Master of Ceremonies. The all-volunteer show was produced by an informal group, the “Lakeside Karaoke Singers”.
The level of talent was impressive and a bit intimidating. Most of the singers were extremely well-prepared and rehearsed and many wore custom costumes to match the songs, changing as they advanced in the contest. But we had to reduce the 15 contestants to 2 by the end of the third round. That was tough – the few very amateur or unprepared contestants were not hard to gong but most were near professional-level quality and presented us judges with painful choices.
The early gongees were off-key, sang in the wrong pitch, didn’t dress for the part or connect to the audience. That was easy, but when chief judge Cindy told me that Patti Gates, who was killing a country-western song and had the hat, boots and cowgirl dress to match, sang a song with a rule-breaking 30-second instrumental breakdown, I had to gong her. It broke my heart. Worse, the audience booed me loudly.
We had a very professional Latina dressed perfectly for cumbia, which she did with presence, joy and infectious enthusiasm, but was gonged in round two for being slightly off-key. We had a class-act country-western singer with the hat, boots and songs gonged in round one for slightly wrong pitch. We had a lovely jazz singer dressed to the nines who made all the right smoky moves except being exactly on key (she was close). We had a woman in full cape doing The Monster Mash (she stayed; points for courage and stage presence). We had a rock and roller who looked great and sounded great but was not quite in sync with the lyrics on the screen. And on it went. One by one each of us gonged a singer and then stood up, thanked them and told them how good they were except for this one little thing while the audience cheered and ordered more margaritas. It seemed everyone was having fun but the talent and the judges.
I finally revolted and told the chief judge I was bringing back Patti Gates, the country-western singer who was perfect except for her song choice. The audience cheered the move. Patti rewarded us by changing into a brilliant, slinky silver gown and commanded the stage with romantic jazz. No gong there. It came down to Patti and Gayla, an enthusiastic pop singer who was on key, on pitch and on beat, and who the audience loved.
The two finalists gave their last heartfelt performances and we turned it over to the audience to choose the winner by clapping and cheering for their favorite. Gayla brought the most fans and was the clear winner. After congratulating her runner up, she entertained the crowd with a final song while the judges table breathed a collective sigh of relief and ordered their own margaritas (at least I did).
The Karaoke Gong Show was not only a fun night, but it was financially a solid success. It sold out early and the club had to squeeze in extra tables for latecomers without reservations. The event raised almost $16,800mx ($8000 US, a lot of money in Mexico) for the Programa pro Niños Incapacitados del Lago (Crippled Children) and animal rescue organizations. The singers were competing for a grand prize of a table and drinks for 4 at any show at The Spotlight, donated by club owner, Mark Rome, who also donated 100% of the night’s ticket proceeds to the charities. Given the financial success, the judges and organizers have decided to try it again next year, although I may move from judge to producer, which I think will be less stress. Watch this space.
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