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Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears: A-Man.

photo: Joe Putrock

A Is for Absolutely Fabulous
By Erik Hage

Karaoke entrepreneur A-Man uses his club success to raise cash for good causes

For fans of Beaujolais nou-veau, the third Thursday of November is the day when the season’s Beaujolais Noveau is unleashed for tasting, having made its voyage from central France to our fair cities. (One area Beaujolais event, at Franklin Plaza in Troy, benefited the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York.)

On the eve of this day, heading toward 10 PM, Oh Bar on Lark Street is enjoying the run-off throngs from various wine-tasting events in the area. The club is packed to the gills (movement is literally impossible), with impeccably groomed people—primarily gay men in dark, narrow suits (navy blue is a predominant theme), $40 haircuts and all stripes and scents of cologne. It is a sort of metrosexual male Valhalla, replete with distinct clutches of attractive hetero women in all sorts of slinky finery.

Amid the crush, near the front window of the long barroom, a young man earnestly scrunches his face in a lifting version of Erasure’s “A Little Respect,” which pumps at full-on, bass-throbby volume throughout the club. (The sound quality is such that—save for the pitch-problematical vocals—it could be the original.)

The barroom pipes up in a sing-along with the ’80s song, which has become a sort of gay anthem. Post-Erasure, and throughout the night, a long line of enthusiastic would-be vocalists queue up for their shot at the limelight, lyrics scrolling across two shiny flat-screen TVs on the bar wall.

“My niche is the gay market,” karaoke guru A-Man points out, perhaps unnecessarily. “There’s karaoke everywhere, but I had to start with a niche somewhere, and I decided to try the gay market. . . . There’s all kinds of karaoke hosts out there and I had to find out what my niche in the market was going to be.”

Having repeatedly pushed through the Oh Bar throng, I finally locate A-Man (aka Alvin) and whisk him out into the November chill, away from the wall of bright chatter and pumping sound system and a few steps away from a white limo parked curbside for the occasion.

But keeping the conversation going is not easy; out on the street he is constantly greeted by newcomers, becoming a sort of Ricardo Montalban, ushering arrivals to his own Fantasy Island.

“Hi, honey, what are you up to?” he asks, greeting one young man with a peck.

“Good . . . nothing, I mean,” titters the well-dressed new arrival.

“Things are more fun if you go in there,” encourages A-Man, ushering him through the doors. “Keep smiling. Just . . . keep . . . smiling.

A-Man has been facilitating the well-attended Thursday night karaoke at Oh Bar for four years now, but it’s only a slice of his gay-karaoke enterprise. Other nights of the week he can be found at Waterworks Pub in Albany (Mondays and Fridays) and Circus Café in Saratoga (the first and third Saturday of every month). Starting in January, he’s branching out to Franklin’s Tower on the last Saturday of every month. He also has his sights set on a new gay bar in Troy.

“When I first started it was seven nights of karaoke, with myself behind the machine,” he recalls, but now he says he’s evolved into more of a producer (under the moniker “A-Man Productions”), providing the equipment and overseeing the various karaoke nights. “I’m kind of more of a social person now,” he points out. Currently, he shows up at the events primarily “to see how it’s going and [to] say ‘hi’. . . . And I do sing!” (His repertoire consists of Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, and Tom Jones’ “Delilah.”)

But what makes A-Man newsworthy lately is not just the shows, but his ability to raise money for a good cause. For this year’s AIDS Walk, he raised $7,600 by putting together a team of people and offering incentives to his karaoke singers (such as paying a donation to jump ahead in the long line of singers). A-Man also offered another incentive: He would cut his hair if a certain amount was raised.

The idea came after last year’s tsunami. At that time, A-Man recalled thinking, “Let’s try to collect some money and see what we can do through our karaoke shows. In seven days we collected over $1,500 for the tsunami.”

With that success behind him, he decided to shoot for the AIDS Walk. And with more time to raise money, he aimed for a higher goal. “I was like, if we’re going to go four or six weeks, it has to be at least $3,500 for me to cut my hair.” (At the time, he had long locks.)

Obviously, Team A-Man Karaoke’s efforts crushed that goal, raising more than twice the amount—and A-Man was appropriately shorn in a public ceremony.

But being the local diva of gay karaoke isn’t all glory. He points out that at Waterworks on Mondays, “it was going to be kind of like a gay idol kind of thing—two or three times a year they do a contest.” But, alas, he laughs: “Last year they only did two contests and both of the people who won were straight people.

He also has to deal with the idiosyncrasies of his chosen demographic. “You have to have all kinds of music if you’re going to have a karaoke show. In the gay market I found out that a lot of people like show tunes. So I had to make sure I stocked up on a lot of show tunes.”

Nevertheless, straight or gay, A-Man has an insider’s tip on success at the mic: “The worst singers up there get the most attention. Because if somebody is up there singing good . . . sometimes they get overlooked because people think it’s a CD or something.”


-no rough mix this week-

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