By day, Rebecca Lee Lerman is the sweet face behind the desk at the
Westin Hotel's spa in Times Square.
But on Monday nights, the demure receptionist transforms herself into
a sultry singing sensation - the performer she has dreamed of becoming since childhood.
It begins the moment
she steps onto a nightclub stage in the Theater District, leans into a microphone and delivers a stirring rendition of "Someone
To Watch Over Me."
For Lerman and hundreds of others who take the stage at Billy Shepard and Judi
Jourdan's open-mic night at Dillon's Cabaret Cafe, that moment in the spotlight is a tantalizing taste of the big time.
"It's the hardest journey anyone can take to become a performer," said Lerman, 26, who hopes to perform
on cruise ships and concert halls. "Without Billy and Judi, I might be booking massage appointments for the rest of my
Move over, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul.
Long before "American Idol"
was born, veteran crooners Shepard & Jourdan have been hosting "Singer's Search," one of the longest-running
open auditions in town.
Dillon's is one of the city's hidden gems, giving a star turn to talented nobodies
who come in droves to be seen and heard. For one glorious night, they can be somebody else, somewhere else, transported by
the magic of music and applause.
"Get out of the shower and into the spotlight," Shepard tells
his dreamers. "Nothing is going to happen if you stay home."
If Shepard and Jourdan give you
the thumbs-up on a Monday night, they invite you back to do a 30-minute set on a weekend for the paying public. And later
this year, they are sponsoring "NYC Singing Idol." The winner gets $1,000 and a guest appearance on their cable
"There is so much talent in New York," Shepard said. "You couldn't do this for as
long as we have in any other city."
Who shows up on Mondays?
Just about anyone.
Even Dillon's emcee, Jackie Voyages, can belt it out like nobody's business.
Most of the singers are in
their 20s and 30s, looking for a place to polish their act or be discovered. They come from all over the world, packing the
100-seat club on W. 54th St. A vase of red roses sits atop a Yamaha baby grand piano where the gifted hands of pianist Haim
Cotton have been accompanying singers for 18 years.
Last Monday, the lineup included Billy Keys, 21, a
Justin Timberlake look alike; Eleni Skapari, a 27-year-old human rights worker from Cyprus, and 11-year-old Alexa Rosenberg,
a Brooklyn seventh-grader with a powerful set of pipes whose parents beamed from a corner table as she sang a Puccini aria.
There was also "Seven" Moshod a 31-year-old barber from Staten Island who was as smooth as Marvin Gaye.
And Michael Rucci, 48, a bookish high school teacher, who waited until almost midnight for his turn to get onstage.
"It felt thrilling to sit up there," Rucci said.
There also are colorful characters
who show up.
Like an unemployed Jersey guy who goes by the name of "Tony Wiseguy." A newcomer,
he showed up recently to perform his own lyrics to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon on the Old Oak Tree." ("Why won't you
adopt me, Angelina Jolie?")
Or 60-year-old Jerry Baker - aka Gerald C. Bakarich - a balding bus driver
who is a big hit with his passengers on the Atlantic City run.
"It makes you feel like you're somebody,"
Baker said. "You also want to make a good impression when you get up there. You never know who is out in the audience,
maybe you will get that break you've been looking for."
Shepard and Jourdan had their big break more
than 40 years ago when the Bronx-born Judith Schick and St. Louis-born Herman Rombom teamed up as a singing and comic duo.
She was a drop-dead double for Elizabeth Taylor with a captivating voice. He was a Sinatra-like crooner with
matinee idol looks and black velvet hair.
They traveled the world together entertaining and did the circuit
- Vegas, the Catskills, cruise ships and the Copa. They appeared with Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr.
we not still gorgeous?" asked Jourdan, with a theatrical flair as the couple posed for a Daily News photographer.
"People say how tough show business is, but we've made a wonderful life of it," Shepard added, sitting
in the couple's upper West Side apartment filled with decades of memorabilia.
The open-mic auditions and
weekend showcases are a labor of love for the couple. They give performers generous advice on delivery and style, offering
showbiz contacts to those who really have a shot. A lot of sweat goes into making Dillon's one of the best of its kind in
And, this being show business, sometimes there are tears.
About five years
ago, a shy 10-year-old girl from Washington Heights came with her father to sing at Dillon's. Shepard and Jourdan instantly
saw that this child was the biggest talent that ever walked through their doors. They helped nurture her talent, flew her
to L.A. to introduce her to Quincy Jones, and set the stage for stardom.
Now 16, she has a singing contract
and is on her way to the top but, alas, with a new manager.
"That was a heartbreak," Shepard
said. "We devoted years to her."
Troubled young performer
closes in on her dream, winning 'NYC Singing Idol'
Sunday, September 21st 2008, 12:06 PM
Danielle Lovelace came to New York with $38 in her pocket five years ago - and a dream even she says was crazy.
"I bought a one-way
bus ticket to music," said the aspiring entertainer, who left the violent streets of Maryland and Washington, where she sold drugs, and then lived in New York's homeless shelters as she started over.
32-year-old blues and jazz singer, who works as a personal trainer, has her act together now. And she took the first step
toward her dream last week when she was named "NYC Singing Idol" - capturing a $1,000 prize at Dillon's Cabaret on W. 54th St.
"I understand this
journey is tough, but I want to do it so bad, and I'm gonna make it here," she vowed. "Just watch."
Lovelace was born to a poor, single mother in Washington. As a child, she witnessed domestic violence. Church
was their anchor and refuge.
And it was where Lovelace discovered her voice singing gospel. But she left
home at 17 to escape an abusive stepfather, and ended up selling crack.
After five years of a wasted life,
Lovelace decided she wanted better. She got a job at the post office. She waited tables. She worked any legit job she could
find, all the while wrestling with her demons.
On Aug. 6, 2003, Lovelace decided to take another big risk.
With a half-dozen self-help books in her suitcase, she boarded a Greyhound bus for the 250-mile trip to another new beginning.
Within a week she talked herself into a job waiting tables
at a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant. One day, she saw an ad in Backstage inviting singers to an open mic night at Dillon's.
Shepard and his wife, Judi Jourdan, veteran entertainers who run the club, heard something special in her low, bluesy voice. They gave her a shot, telling her
she could do a 30-minute show and keep the money from whatever tickets she sold.
"When she sings,
she creates a mood - like Billie Holiday or Dinah Washington, but it's unique," Jourdan said. "That pain of her past, her life is in her voice."
Lovelace first stepped on the stage at Dillon's, she sang to herself, a vulnerable woman deep in her own reverie, a hat covering
her eyes, as if to shut out the world.
"I had to come out of my shell," said Lovelace, who at
5-feet-11 reinvented herself last year as a personal trainer at Bally's Total Fitness in Queens.
"I began to say, 'If you love this, then act like you love it.' Nobody wants to see you looking
like a sad puppy dog. Give people what they came to see - a singer, a musician, words and music that evoke emotion."
Her sultry voice bathed the room at Dillon's on Sept. 12 with "God Bless the Child," "At
's "He Can Only Hold Her" to thunderous applause. Lovelace waived the 10 $100 bills placed
in her hand and shouted: "I won, I'm rich!" "Whoever thought I would even be a personal trainer, coming here
with nothing?" she said. "But that's not enough."
Lovelace says she has e-mailed Oprah 400 times, asking to go on her show to tell her story and sing, in hopes of getting discovered.
know how in life you have to do something, and that if you don't, you feel like you will die? I feel that way about music."
For information on Shepard & Jourdan's Open-Mic Night, contact Billy Shepard and Judi Jourdan
at (212) 874 - 7956.