They're karaoke-crazy! Bimonthly 'Smack Down' is 'Gong Show' for Bizarro World

Posted: April 21, 2003

WHAT'S IT CALLED when your average, beer-drinking, Bucks County guy makes a public wedding proposal to his girlfriend and sings a love song he's written to the tune of Bon Jovi's "It's My Life," while standing on a 1,000-square-foot stage with two goofy emcees, a psychedelic punk rock diva, a pro wrestler from South Philly, a whip-wielding S&M lingerie designer and a guy dressed like a Whammy?

If you guessed the "Super-Mecha Karaoke Smack Down," you're right.

But you probably didn't guess that, did you?

Well, you should have. The "Smack Down" - aka the "Super-Mecha Karaoke Gong Show" - claims to be the largest, and wildest, karaoke event of its kind.

One Wednesday night every other month, about 300 karaoke-craving attendees fork over a $5 cover charge to watch dozens of singers in a contest that's somewhere between "American Idol" and the country bar scene from "The Blues Brothers."

Think "The Gong Show," with a lot of beer.

The winner gets $500 cash. The losers get booed off the stage.

Competitors -¬Ěsome who've signed up in advance online, and others who put their names and songs in a bucket - have to get up the nerve to vocalize on the Troc's famous stage, against the intimidating backdrop of a giant movie screen that displays their live images and occasional messages such as, "We wanna see some underwear," "The word is silicone" and "Somebody buy this person a shot."

Victor Fiorillo, who's half of a popular local vaudeville show called "The Brothers Suggarillo," is responsible for the event. He came up with the idea after his first karaoke experience, at the Hollywood Palace in West Philly. The first "Smack Down" was held last September.

Also one of the show's masters of ceremonies, Fiorillo gets plenty of backup from co-emcee and set designer Devin Williams. And he couldn't do it without South Philly virtuoso "KJ" - that's karaoke jockey - Nick Formosa.

"When we started it, we had no clue what was going to happen," Fiorillo said, "When you do karaoke in a bar, it's a totally safe environment. Nobody's gonna boo you. Here, it's such a larger scale. You're singing on the same stage Nirvana played on. There's rent money at stake. And people are going to boo you."

No holds barred

"What makes this show good is, it's really over the top - everything goes," said regular competitor Bruce Fero, who won the first "Smack Down."

Let Fiorillo explain:

"We've had fights. We've had girls take their tops off. We've had a guy who calls himself 'Fatter Mike' sing 'Like a Virgin' and do a striptease while audience members rubbed his belly."

There was the petite woman who performed "Baby Got Back" with a fake booty in her pants. And the time an unassuming violinist from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music sang Neil Diamond's "Cracklin' Rose" wearing tails and a top hat.

But like any good showman, Fiorillo claims the wildest "Smack Down" yet was the most recent one, which took place last week.

It all started with a trio of riot-inciting judges who sat - and drank - in a makeshift booth at one side of the stage. The tamest of the crew was regular panelist and fetish-wear designer Psydde Delicious, dressed in a black leather straitjacket and a full hood with zipper openings for his eyes and mouth.

His boisterous sidekick was Elizabeth Fiend - host of an edgy local PBS-TV show called "Big Tea Party" and slide guitar player/singer in the psychedelic punk band More Fiends - decked out in a neon nylon and faux fur ensemble.

When Fiend and Delicious weren't swing dancing behind the performers, they were creeping up behind them with a leather whip, which they used to, um, indicate that the singer was eliminated.

But last week's limelight belonged to guest judge Billy "The Real Deal" Reil.

Reil, dressed conservatively in a striped blue shirt and black pants, is the 24-year-old NWA wrestler who made headlines last fall by chasing a mugger through South Philly while wearing nothing but boxer shorts.

This blue-eyed champ riled up the crowd with typical WWE-style antics - he repeatedly cupped his hand to his ear, leaned toward the audience and got them to boo or to cheer.

Toward the end of the night, Reil was unabashedly gyrating with female performers. By the time pro jingle-singer and Drexel Hill hottie Denise NeJame belted out "Sweet Child O' Mine," Reil had stripped down to those famous boxers.

When audience members got tired of watching the judges, they could always marvel at Fiorillo, dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit and a scuba mask. Or Williams, decked out in a tux and spewing insults. Or Ed Arney, who streaked onstage as the Whammy. Or the guy dressed as Andy Kaufman dressed as Tony Clifton - for those who get the reference.

Despite all this, the performers were the real stars.

First up, though he didn't officially enter the competition, was local DJ legend Jerry "The Geator" Blavat. The Geator kicked off the show with the 1952 classic "You Belong to Me," telling the crowd, "When you're my age, you won't be up on this stage."

After Blavat, the amateurs

The show's standouts included a guy in a snakeskin suit who sang Black Sabbath, a drag queen who performed "My Way" in 4-inch heels while smoking a cigarette and guzzling a Tecate, and a woman calling herself "Lot Six" who sang her own, angry tune against a homemade video backdrop.

But they weren't all going for shock value.

One smoky-voiced sexpot offered up a rousing "Get Here." Another saucy dame brought the crowd to its feet with "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'."

Then there was local karaoke king Bruce Fero, wearing a black tuxedo shirt with a silver-studded collar, who crooned the karaoke classic "Viva Las Vegas."

By far the night's most memorable act came from Steve Weiss, who silenced the boisterous crowd even before he started singing by getting down on one knee and proposing to his girlfriend of four years, Karen Weise.

Offering her a ring he had purchased with his tax refund, the trembling groom-to-be unfolded a piece of paper and sang his own lyrics to the tune of Bon Jovi's "It's My Life."

Weiss substituted the words, "She's my wife," and began his song with, "The Bensalem Pizza Hut was where it started / Four years later we can't be parted," then launched into a history of the couple's relationship. Not one to be left out of the act, Weiss's new fiancee helped him fill the instrumental with an onstage makeout session.

After the performance, the future Mrs. Weiss kept repeating, "I can't believe it. I'm still in shock."

Surprisingly enough, Weiss wasn't the night's first-prize winner. That honor went to QVC employee and Springfield, Delaware County, resident Fran Donato, who wowed the crowd with a gutsy performance of "Come Sail Away" by Styx, set to a light show worthy of a Grammy production.

Just past midnight, clutching a fistful of bills, Donato stood onstage surrounded by her friends, whom she credited with making her get up there and sing. She said, "I'm stunned. I've been to every single one of these shows. This is the best freaking karaoke around."

Indeed. *

The next "Super-Mecha Karaoke Smack Down" takes place at the Trocadero, 10th and Arch streets, 8 p.m. to midnight on June 18. For more information, go online to www.phillykaraoke.com.

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