Arts & Entertainment

Songs about rainbows: LA Skid Row karaoke

Skid Row Sings
Skid Row Sings
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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At precisely 7 p.m. residents form a line down the sidewalk outside Skid Row's "Church on the Corner," waiting to sign up for karaoke under their karaoke name of choice. The three-hour event overflows with heart and soul and singing, with many participants dressed in their Sunday best.

As the evening progresses, the crowd swells and people pour into the church; some in wheelchairs find a spot on the end of an aisle or in the back row, others rush towards the front to sign up for a song.

Many were dressed in their everyday clothes but others were decked out in high heels and dresses, slacks and collared shirts. One man wore a matching plaid pants suit complete with a bow tie. Another, Gentleman Robbie, was dressed in head to toe royal blue, complete with brooches, silver shoes and a wide-rimmed hat.

"Cowboy" warmed up the crowd before Moses, dressed in all black and an AC/DC shirt, got everyone on their feet and dancing with his rendition of "Devil With A Blue Dress On."

When Pierre took the stage, he sent a wave of goosebumps through the room with his version of "If You Don't Know Me By Now," and by the time one exuberant singer belted out Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer," everyone had worked up a serious sweat (and turned into dedicated back-up singers).

These karaoke sessions at the Central City Community Church of the Nazarene have been going on for 15 years and have become a lifeline for many.

Pastor Tony Stallworth, who's now the senior pastor there, founded the night with the help of his wife (they both sing and do an amazing duet.)

Stallworth went from being addicted to drugs and living on Skid Row, to being a maven in the karaoke business who decided to return to the Downtown area and bring the power of song to the church.

Although he used to doubt whether karaoke night was truly helping the community, Stallworth said he received a bit of confirmation one night from a local resident. A man wandered into the church and handed the pastor a fist full of crumpled up $1 bills. He said that that was the money he was going to spend on drugs. Instead, he heard the music as he was passing by and decided to come in instead.

Once inside, it's easy to get swept up with the positive vibes, incredibly supportive crowd and seriously talented crooners who included a Frank Sinatra-sing-a-like who showed up and quickly vanished like the ghost of the real Rat Pack member.

There were some tunes so old or obscure that no one besides the singer recognized them. Then there were others, like the 1999 hit single from Destiny's Child, "Bills, Bills, Bills" that nearly all the ladies could get behind.

The spirit of night was captured best by one karaoke star in a fierce blonde wig and sparkly pink eyeshadow who sang her heart out to the Muppets (and Willie Nelson's) "The Rainbow Connection."