Be Good Or Be Gone

Apollo TheaterThere was a whole lotta dancing.

Even more singing.

And also some very unfortunate gyrating (which will haunt me forever, I am sure).

I’m talking about our evening at the famed Apollo Theater for Amateur Night, where performers were invited to strut their stuff in front of a live audience. Each was faced with the intense reality of possibly being cheered on to victory, or booed right off the stage – their fragile egos and potential careers in the hands of the audience before them. And this audience was not entirely sober.

The performers also had the added pressure of following in massive footsteps. The list of famous musicians who got their start on the Apollo stage is astounding: The Jackson 5, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Mariah Carey, even Jimi Hendrix.


The stars of the Apollo Theater


Diana Ross. Billie Holiday. Patti LaBelle. And, unbelievably, plenty more still.

It all culminated in a near frenzy that rippled through the theater. The display of talent wasn’t solely showcased on the stage as a result. The evening’s host, the hilarious comedian Capone, had us all on our feet singing and clapping. During intermission, strangers continued the party by dancing together in the aisles.


The whole evening carried an electric buzz from the start.


So much so, in fact, that this writer felt compelled to try to perform on the grand stage as well. Urged on by the streaming energy, the perpetual search for a great blog post, and perhaps a shot (or three) of my favorite whiskey, I waved my hand frantically to be chosen for the extreme-amateur portion of Amateur Night.

Alas, to my drunken disappointment, I was glanced at and passed over. A few minutes later, I was immensely glad for that.

Four audience contestants took to the stage, and for thirty seconds each, gave it all they had. There was wiggling, grooving, and yes, gyrating, with a complete lack of inhibition from all four. We were hooting, hollering, and cheering for our favorite.

There was no question who the winner was. When a senior man (70ish?) displays moves like that, there is no contest. Give that man a prize.

Next up were the kids. Four more contestants, ages eight to sixteen, were much more impressive then any of the fearless adults could have been. Three flexed their pipes and one dance troupe dominated the stage. They each had more talent in one leg of their leather pants then I’ve shown in thirty-plus years (only a couple of which I have worn leather pants).

No boo’s were allowed for the kids, only cheers to help choose the winner: a sixteen year old girl with incredible range who deserved every ounce of praise. The booing was soon to come.


“It’s about to get all ghetto in here,” Capone announced.


Capone the comedianHe explained the rules at the start of the official Amateur Night competition: winners would be chosen by cheering, but if a performance wasn’t going well, the audience was encouraged to be just as vocal. He suggested checking with our neighbors around us: “If they’re terrible, everybody has to make the consensus to boo. You gonna boo? I’m gonna boo. Let’s boo.” And if the heckling was intense enough, an “executioner” would come on stage to remove the perpetrator for his or her crimes against humanity.

It turned out to be the most fun we could have by trying to make someone else miserable.

We were warmed up with easy reason to cheer as the first two contestants sang their hearts out and won the favor of the crowd.

The third was most definitely boo-worthy. Being a little shy of heckling at first, the crowd kept him on stage for far too long. By the end the booing gained intensity but the singer escaped unscathed and was able to finish his entire song. Unfortunately for the contestant after him, there was a lot of pent-up energy in the crowd. She was barely into her first verse and the booing started. It wasn’t long before the executioner crept up beside her.

He was dressed as Michael Jackson, and he moon-walked her off the stage.

The bad continued, but she somehow was the only one to get brushed off. The following contestant was all flavors of awful: dressed in a full white suit with red shoes, he threw in some severely inappropriate hip movements, and destroyed all notes outside of his prescribed range. I even stood up to boo. But it apparently wasn’t enough and he was allowed to stay.

Jennifer Halliday

Jennifer Halliday

In the end it was the first contestant who won and she moved on for the chance at a $10,000 prize.

The real highlight of the night came in the form of the iconic Miss Jennifer Halliday (the “original” Dream Girl), who owned the stage at intermission. She bellowed the famous song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going“, and brought the house down. And by down, I mean up, rising on feet, tip toes, clapping, cheering, whistling and crying. Maybe that was just me, but I doubt it.

Perhaps it goes without saying that the entire evening was a highly entertaining roller coaster of an experience. One best encountered with a penchant for singing, grooving, and being swept up in a boisterous energy.

And maybe with some leather pants. A shot (or three) of whiskey is fun too.


 *****P.S.***** Pete and I were lucky to get back inside the Apollo that weekend when a free Open House of entertainment was scheduled. We thus managed to get our moment of fame onstage, gracing the wooden planks that so many people have famously before us.

That wooden stump we’re posing with is the “Tree of Hope” – a famous hunk of tree stump that contestants have rubbed smooth for good luck. The tree stood outside the Lafayette Theater where Amateur Night was previously held before moving it to the new Apollo which opened in 1934.

24 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • February 24 2012

    Booyah!!! It’s one of the few things in New York that I want to see! Awesome write up!!! Can’t wait to see your next destination!

    • February 25 2012

      You gotta hit it up when you get here Brian! You’ll love it!

  • February 24 2012

    Great post, and you get credit for even volunteering to perform. What exactly was your performance going to be if you had been chosen? Is blog writing a recognized talent in Harlem?

    • February 25 2012

      I would have had to shake my groove thang, along with everyone else! Yikes! 🙂

  • February 25 2012

    You guys always discover the coolest stuff. This sounds like SO much fun! I love that booing was encouraged… haha.
    Amanda recently posted..Don’t Be a Scaredy Cat – Just Travel

    • February 25 2012

      It was a BLAST! I have to say that I did feel bad for the girl that got moon-walked off the stage, she was NOT happy about that!

  • February 25 2012

    I am cheering for this article. When I was reading, I felt like I was actually there cheering and booing with the crowd.Cheers!
    rashmi recently posted..Why You Should Take a Vacation

    • February 26 2012

      Thanks Rashmi! So glad that the energy translated – that was such a fun night.

  • February 25 2012

    What a cool night!!!!
    Mike recently posted..Get Ready….Get Set….

  • February 25 2012

    What fun! You were brave to raise your hand. It would have taken more than a few whiskeys to get me to go up on that stage. Or maybe I’d get caught up in the excitement.

    • February 26 2012

      Yeah, I’m normally the first person to shy away from that. But it was just too much fun, and I hadn’t eaten enough before drinking the whiskey. 🙂

  • February 26 2012

    That sounds wild! But also looks like a whole lot of fun, I could feel the energy of the place, the boos the hollering…
    Great read.
    Arti recently posted..The Village Woman By The Riverside

    • February 26 2012

      Thanks Arti! It was pretty wild.

  • February 26 2012

    Wow, what an amazing experience 😀
    Laurence recently posted..7 Super Shots

  • Claire
    February 26 2012

    Sounds like an amazing night! Gyrating and all!

    • February 26 2012

      Well, I could have done without the gyrating, but it was still pretty entertaining!

  • Erik
    February 27 2012

    Great post. Looking forward to your next chapter.

    I can only hope our paths cross someday- I’m sure you guys would be a riot to meet 🙂

  • February 27 2012

    Wow! That sounds so so fun! I didn’t do anything like that when I was in NYC, although I did go to one smaller theatre show in Queens which was pretty awesome

  • February 27 2012

    That is terrifying to know that the fate of your performance is decided by the audience but it should also be motivating enough to give it all you’ve got. The Apollo Theater is such an iconic place and to be able to perform there should be rewarding enough.
    Alexa Meisler recently posted..The Excitement of White Water Rafting on a Stag Weekend in Miami

  • How cool!! You got to see Jennifer Halliday AND touch the Apollo stumps!

  • March 5 2012

    How cool!!

  • March 5 2012

    Wow this sounds awesome, what an incredibly entertaining and interactive night! Trust the New Yorkers to come up with something like this and to carry on such an iconic tradition. Bravo, great post 🙂
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Simple Pleasures in Koh Kong

  • March 13 2012

    You guys are adorable and awesome! And much braver than I’d ever be. What a fun experience. 🙂

    • Pete
      March 14 2012

      We can’t take all the credit… The Bushmills helped us in the brave department 😉

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