December 13, 2007
To say that there's a Frank Sinatra cult in Hoboken is rather like saying that the citizens of Washington, DC, take an interest in politics. They love the guy here!
Last night was the first-ever Frank Sinatra Idol contest, held at the Hoboken Historical Museum in honor of his birthday. Being the first, it was notably small, cozy, and hilarious, with an enthusiastic crowd (including yours truly) shrieking, stomping, clapping and sometimes whistling for the sometimes tentative performers.
Emceed by Hoboken's smooth Sinatra imitator Gary Troy Simpson, who claims he's also known as Rev. SimpSinatra (couldn't prove it by me; I'm new in town), the show was a great amateur display with flashes of brilliance and occasional professional pipes coming from unexpected places. There was a well-placed Sinatra-lookalike sitting down center who stood at an angle so as to expose his well-rehearsed facial reactions. The folks behind me kept saying, "Look at that guy! He looks like Frank!" A studious little man who looked as if he could be an officer at a bank sat in front, visibly cringing from time to time and I kept wondering what he was doing there.
The mayor and his wife came in fashionably not-quite-on-time, and were seated in the front row. The room had a party atmosphere, just as The Chairman of the Board would have wanted. I had half-expected this contest to be something like, "Who will be the NEXT Sinatra?" but I was one of the few in the room under 70, so it was more like Old Home Week for Old Hoboken. A lady started the proceedings by presenting a poem she had written about how much she and everybody else loved Frank Sinatra. Then the first performer got up and gave us a rendition of "You Make Me Feel So Young," followed by a few other numbers, with excitement building as the repertoire widened to include "Night and Day" and a couple of versions of "New York, New York." Some of these guys could really sing, but nobody sounded much like Sinatra. We didn't think we'd found a real winner until a young Hoboken Parks Service employee named Joe Riccardi, with his little fedora and his perfectly phrased pauses, got up and sang a swinging "Nice and Easy." He and another performer credited their mothers -- who were in the audience -- as their inspiration for learning to sing like Sinatra. Both were excellent. In fact, the contest ended in a tie which made it even more fun. There had to be a sing-off to settle it.
A great write-up of the event, with a video, can be seen here.
One more thing about the bank officer in front of me. He got up to sing and blew us away. He said he wasn't a Sinatra imitator, he had just come because it was Frank's birthday. He sang "My Way," with a beautiful, trained voice, a professional style, and an ease in front of the audience. I've tried to find him on the Internet, because I busted him when he sat down, "You're a professional, aren't you?" and he admitted it. He said, "I'm not here to compete, I just wanted to sing one for Sinatra." His name is James Michael, and I don't know where he came from, but he made my night.
The son of one of the Hoboken Four sang beautifully, but didn't make the finals. He told one story, that the Hoboken Four once got kicked out of the state of Florida, but he didn't know why. Guess that's one story the Four didn't want to get around -- at least to their sons. (Maybe Frank Jr. knows.)
As you can tell, I had a wonderful time. It's interesting how many Italian men love to sing. And if Hoboken is any example, they want to sing like Frank Sinatra.