A truly amateur night at the Apollo

Pillsbury_doughboySo let’s talk about the train wreck that was last night’s Advertising Week’s Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater. I assumed, as did many in the ad industry, that Advertising Week had reserved the famed stage for a contest among advertising executives—and only advertising executives. Sadly, that was not the case. Not only did last night’s industry performers “compete” amidst genuine Apollo amateurs—Billie Holliday, James Brown and more recently Lauryn Hill got their starts there—but they were on stage next to the contests’ “Top Dogs,” who are amateurs that had already won two Apollo contests. The theater’s notoriously brutal and finicky crowd booed the first two industry performers off the stage before settling down, inexplicably, for a magician and scantily clad Mambo dancers. Among the other ill-conceived show stoppers were Juan Valdez, whose donkey was led on stage without him and McGruff the Crime Dog, who was quietly accepted—though an attempt to show one of his film strips faced technical difficulties and the ire of an impatient crowd. The Pillsbury Doughboy and Kool-Aid, both of whom bounced along to the music from balcony perches, didn’t draw any disrespect, but when they were trotted into the hallway during intermission, most theater-goers sauntered up to the theater’s own 8-foot “Tall Man,” leaving Pills and Kool in the cold. I arrived at the Apollo Theater excited just to see a show at the legendary house, but I left at intermission, shaking my head at the culture clash I had just witnessed. Amateur Night at The Apollo Theater is about authentic, unvarnished talent taking the stage knowing full well that their ego might take some lumps. It is not about polished ad types foisting their focus-grouped “icons” on an annoyed crowd who paid good money for a show. It seems the organizers of this event, sponsored by MTV and Levi’s, should have first considered the ad industry’s golden rule before elbowing their way into this contest: Know your audience.

—Posted by Deanna Zammit