There must be something about big families and the need to perform. Maybe its the lack of attention growing up, but I have yet to meet a family of more than five children who didn’t have at least one – if not all – of the children try their hand at stardom.
There’s the famous examples: The Osmonds, The Carters, The Jacksons, The Jets, The Pointer Sisters, The Brady Bunch.
Then you have my family. We’re sort of like the Jacksons, but white with less talent and less plastic surgery. We also never pooled our collective talents for singing and dancing to form a super group that would become one of the most influential pop groups on the planet. We could have! But we didn’t.
So, okay, bad analogy. I take it back. My family is nothing like the Jacksons. Not even in size. They had nine. We had seven. But one of my brother was in a band. And I have a sister who was a Janet Jackson impersonator. So, suck it!
Yes, yes, my sister was Janet – Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty – for one glorious night in high school back in the early 90s. It’s okay to be a little jealous of me.
Long before Joseph Gordon-Levitt performed the song on TBS’ Lip Sync Battle, my older sister Debbie and two of her friends took to the stage and made our tiny hometown the capital of “Rhythm Nation” for one night.
Like a lot of high schools, ours held a talent show every year during homecoming week. It was based on The Gong Show, which meant a group of merciless seniors sat up on the stage, a gigantic gong beside them, and not-so-silently judged your performance.
Every moment you were up there, you lived in fear that one of the judges – usually a burly football player – would stand up with that enormous mallet in his hand and encourage the crowd to “boo” you. It was not for the faint-hearted.
Which is why I think people were a little suprised when Debbie signed up to do it. “Debbie? Really? But she’s so quiet.”
You know what they say…the quiet ones always surprise you. Deep down, Deb is a bad-ass. A little like Janet herself.
The three of them practiced for weeks leading up to the competition. These weren’t a couple of kids up there half-assing it. Oh no, they were in it to win it. Their attitude was, “Fuck that gong!”
The best was when they practiced at our house. They would let me sit with them while they studied Janet’s videos and practiced her moves. They even let me run the tape recorder. So, yeah, I was basically in the group.
I’m not sure if our school’s Gong Show was always a lip sync contest, but it seemed like by the time me and my sister got to high school, they made up a majority of the acts. This really confused some of the older folks in town.
On the night of my sister’s performance, I heard some old guy behind me ask what was going on, like he had just been dragged in off the street.
“It’s some sort of lip sync concert, I think,” the woman beside him said.
“A lipstick contest? What on earth?”
“No, Harold. A LIP SYNC CONCERT!”
When it was their turn to take the stage, Deb and her friends looked amazing. We didn’t have an army surplus store nearby, so it was a little tough to nail down the look from the video. But Deb scored an awesome outfit from Maurice’s that had a jacket that buttoned up the front and had gigantic shoulder pads. She looked fairly militant
The music started and they slayed it. Debbie was used to kicking ass – my ass – but now she was kicking ass on stage. The choreography was on point and if you squinted a little you would have thought it Janet herself up there. They were amazing! And I’m saying that as someone who has been to a fair number of crappy high school talent shows.
Nobody booed. Not even Harold. Nobody banged the gong ,either. In fact, they took home the first-place trophy! All that hard work paid off. Then she retired the Janet act. She hung up her hoop earrings and big black jacket and never performed “Rhythm Nation” again.
She sings now – for real – with a music group in our hometown. On the same stage she performed on that night. They donate money to the school’s music program and sponsor a scholarship. But mostly they get up there because they like to sing and perform, so my sister fits right in. And, I like to think she brings a little of that old “Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty” sass to the act when she’s up there.
Bonus Track: Joseph Gordon-Levitt performing “Rhythm Nation” on Lip Sync Battle
You have to watch Anthony Mackie to “2 Legit 2 Quit” first, but the whole video is pretty darn funny.