By Jim Schutze
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One Thursday, not too long ago, I called Fat Ted's. "Is Nikki McKibben playing tonight?"
"Yeah, at 9 p.m. Wait--didn't you call last week?"
Busted. In fact, this was the third week I'd called Fat Ted's, hoping to catch the former American Idol star and single mother who finished an astonishing (considering her pitch problems) third place in the first season of our country's favorite karaoke event. For two weeks, Nikki had been out sick, but I persisted. The fact that management recognized my voice suggested I was the only one.
"I wanna sit where I can see Nikki," I told the rather startled waitress when I arrived at 9 p.m. sharp. Did I know how insane I sounded? I did not. I only knew I wanted a front-row seat to the real "reality" show--the unflattering lights, the jagged little pill of minor celebrity--to find out what became of Nikki McKibben. She didn't release a smash record like Kelly Clarkson, or even a failed record like Justin Guarini. Allegedly she turned down a country contract to make a run as a rock chick. The last time I checked her Web site, though, her performances included singing the national anthem at a high school game and playing Six Flags. All of which made me fascinated and then sad and eventually, as I sat in the empty restaurant at Fat Ted's, guilty.
"I wanna buy Nikki a drink," I told the waitress. Nikki sat at the bar, looking prettier than I remembered, prettier than the last time I saw her--at the Burleson premiere of From Justin to Kelly (long story)--when she was all strung out and bloodshot. Later, Nikki came by the table to thank me. "I'm a fan," I told her, which is mostly true. I'm a fan of American Idol, which I consider high kitsch. I'm a fan of Pat Benatar, whom Nikki often covered. And her little boy is adorable.
Nikki sang a lot that night--not badly, by the way--alternating with the audience (well, our table, the only audience she had) and her co-host, who inexplicably broke down in tears at one point, abandoning the stage mid-song. Close to midnight, Nikki sang "Miss Independent," the wailer by Kelly Clarkson, whom she referred to as "her best friend." "When I told Kelly I was singing 'Miss Independent,' she said, 'You dumb ass,'" Nikki said, yanking up her strapless dress. "Kelly told me, 'Girl, you better get your ass down to NextStage when I perform." At one point, possibly then, Nikki burped into the microphone.
Hosting karaoke at Fat Ted's isn't the most dignified of endeavors. So what? If things had been dignified, I might not have busted out with Kenny Loggins' "Footloose." Our table might not have spilled so many beers or danced to Cheap Trick's "Surrender." One member of our posse certainly wouldn't have overcome his stage fright and slurred U2's "With or Without You" while holding onto the microphone for balance. It's undignified, but baby, that's rock and roll!
Next week, you can see Ruben Studdard at Nokia Live. You can also see Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken, surely the most baffling sex symbol since Boy George. Or you could see Nikki McKibben--uncensored, unpampered, undignified--for free. I know which one I'll choose. Isn't dignity overrated?
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