Ever seen the movie “Coming to America” with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall? Sure you have – it’s a classic. Ok, so then you remember the scene when Eddie Murphy doubles as Randy Watson, the lead singer of “Sexual Chocolate,” and gives a nails-on-the-chalkboard rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” to a slow-clapping audience. Love the movie, love the scene, and I just happen to be a karaoke-lover, so what better stage name for me to choose than “Sexual Chocolate?” Every time I get up to sing karaoke, no matter where I am (church, a kid’s birthday party, Grandma and Grandpa’s 200th anniversary), I sing my song with gusto, and when it’s over, I do a sort of Saturday Night Live Molly Shannon “superstar” pose while yelling “Sexual Chocolate!” It’s a crowd-pleaser.
When I think back to where my love of singing began, it had to have started with my mom, who starred in all sorts of hometown musicals as a child and teenager. She’d always regretted missing the Boat to Stardom, so she tried to pass on her “star” qualities to her kids. By the time I was 9 years old, I knew the words to songs from “Hello Dolly,” “Evita,” “Sound of Music” (who didn’t?), “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and many, many other musicals. When I was older and actually allowed to listen to the radio (I grew up without TV or radio until I was around 12), I devoted myself to learning all the words to every current hit on Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40. I would get a blank tape and sit in front of the stereo for hours recording songs; then I would WRITE DOWN the lyrics to each song; then I would read and re-read until I had them memorized. I was a huge dork in high school, so I really didn’t have anything better to do. However, I did feel pretty cool when I was the only one in all of Catholic Central High School’s 9th grade class who was able to rap every single word of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” at the Freshman dance. (When I’m alone in my room / Sometimes I stare at the wall / And in the back of my mind / I hear my conscience call / Tellin’ me I need a girl who’s as sweet as a dove / For the first time in my life, I see I need love). Boo-yeah! Take that, popular kids! Who’s the dork NOW, huh? Not THIS guy.
I was way too shy back in those days, though, to ever actually get up on a stage and sing. I remember sending in Polaroids of myself wearing my favorite jean dress to a Miss Junior Teen Ohio pageant, and they actually accepted me. (It was probably a money-scamming Ponzi pageant or something like that). Anywho. I was bouncing all around with excitement when I got the letter, until I realized I’d have to come up with a “talent” and perform it in front of a bazillion people. My mom was all like, “Woot, hallelujah, my baby’s gonna be a singing star!” And I was all like, “Hell to the no, woman, have you heard me sing?!” I mean, stage presence and lyric memorization was one thing. Singing on key was something totally different. I threw the registration packet away, and sadly, my Boat to Stardom sailed away without me.
Fast-forward 14 years. I’m 27 years old, and my dad, quite endearingly, gives me a karaoke machine for Christmas. Did I ask for one? No. Had it ever occurred to me that I secretly wanted one? No. Did I hear the song “Dream Weaver” playing in my head as I removed the last remnants of wrapping paper from its beautiful, shiny box? HELL YES. From that day on, me and my karaoke machine was like peas and carrots. When I wasn’t at work, the gym, or getting drunk at a bar, you could find me at a little place I liked to call My Room. Alone. Just like LL Cool J. Except I wasn’t staring at the wall. I was screeching to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” while shadowboxing my cheating ex-boyfriend’s bloated face. Those were special times for me.
But somewhere around the age of 30, I actually left my room and ventured out into dive bars that were hosting karaoke nights. My husband, Todd, was my biggest fan and encouraged me to baby-step my way out of the dark and into the light where my star qualities could be enjoyed by all. I remember the night I belted out my special “You’re So Vain” version at a gay bar, which included yelling profanity at the ghost of that same cheating ex-boyfriend in between verses. The gay dudes loved it. I got a standing ovation. (Ok, they were ALREADY standing because it was so crowded in there, but I’m telling you, they loved it).
Today, I’m a stay-at-home-mom of three boys under the age of 7. My karaoke machine died a long time ago, and even though I wept at its funeral, I realized that it was its time to go. There is no place for a karaoke machine in a home full of animals, I mean young boys. Every time I got it out to “practice,” the microphones were slobbered on, the CDs were used as Frisbees, and since I’m being honest – my kids made for a shitty audience. Now my karaoke opportunities are relegated to occasional nights out on the town (translation: strip mall karaoke bars in Suburbia), and my annual self-promoted birthday celebration which I have dubbed “KaraokeFest.” I never earned passage on that Boat to Stardom. But I did buy an inflatable Walmart raft to hitch myself up and float alongside it. My raft even has a name: Sexual Chocolate.