THE KARAOKE KING
I met Jon at Backing the STARS karaoke night just after he had performed a disco rendition of “I’ve had the time of my life” during which he gave a shout-out to McDonalds. I was captivated watching him perform, he was so charismatic and funny - I practically ran over to him with my microphone as soon as he’d finished as if I were afraid he might get away and I’d never again have the chance to capture a little of what I’d seen of him. I’d never seen someone with so much sass on stage, so I was surprised at how nervous he was when giving me an interview behind the scenes...
Jon told me he’d won a singing competition when he was aged around 9/10 at Butlins singing Elvis - American Trilogy. It was a song he’d heard around the house and he knew the words, more or less, so decided to give it a shot. He didn’t get on stage again until he was well into his 30s and discovered a karaoke scene on moving to London "I didnt know anywhere to sing, I was just living my life. I was just getting on with my life."
Jon told me about the kinds of people who go here. The diehard karaoke fans. The people who never sing, but come to listen. The drifters, who never stick to one karaoke bar. He saw himself as one of these, "I’m somewhere most weeks.”
Jon talked about having no kids that he knows of “if there’s anyone who looks like me just call into your local karaoke bar...”, and an estranged nephew who he'd like to meet - “maybe he’ll come and sing with me one day”. Jon used to work at McDonalds but is on a busman’s holiday for now, the routine of karaoke gives him a sense of belonging and a way of expressing himself. He says that the “songs remind you of what you’ve had in life, and they give you little messages.”
After Jon told me about singing Elvis on stage at Butlins - a moment that would stay with him, but be kept hidden away until he would discover karaoke as a grown up - he erupted into the song he sang back then, reenacting it. Just a few lines; "hush little baby don’t you cry, you know your mama’s born to die.” But they were enough to take me all the way to Butlins and see him on stage as a kid in the 60s, singing Elvis. Presumably a shy kid, who didn’t feel confident enough to do this again until much later. I imagined him winning the toy helicopter he spoke of and feeling important, in the same way that he does now when singing “i’ve had the time of my life” on an iridescent stage in a London bar.
It made me think of what all kinds of people might be expressing during these modest moments of performing on stage, and how much of themselves are being revealed through these routines. Jon said that he comes to these karaoke nights because “people remember you”, and I’d like to think that the people in the crowd at Butlins remember Jon singing Elvis all those years ago. I know that i’ll always remember him singing karaoke on a glitter stage, and knowing for sure that he was a man I wanted to talk to.