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New York is in the House! - Billy & Judi's Talent Showcase

In St. Louis, MO, a 13-year-old boy had the audacity to wander backstage and ask Benny Goodman, legendary bandleader of the time and "The King of Swing," if he could "sing a song." One song later, young Billy Shepard was invited to tour with Goodman's band and his life-long journey as an entertainer had just begun.


Later in his early 20s, Billy relocated to New York City to sign a record deal with RCA Victor after winning a national singing competition. Judi Jourdan, "the first girl I met in New York" says Billy, had first started singing on TV as an eight-year-old kid from the Bronx and was currently receiving local and national radio

airplay. It wasn't long before the two became a couple although their professional careers saw them frequently traveling apart performing in nightclubs and cabarets across the country. This was an especially productive time for Billy, performing as the opening act for the likes of Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr.


A short time after their marriage, Billy Shepard & Judi Jourdan became a duo, traveling and performing together. Then with the birth of their child, life on the road became less appealing. The couple reestablished themselves in NYC, performing locally and teaching Voice both individually and in a workshop setting. It was at this time that the idea for their talent showcase was born.


Says Billy, "We were working with a lot of wonderful students but they had no place where they could practice their craft." Recognizing that performing in front of a live crowd is crucial in the development of a singer's career, the Billy Shepard & Judi Jourdan Singer Showcase was created and is quite probably the longest-running Talent Showcase in NYC. Best of all, admission is free and anyone can participate.


Billy & Judi's Singer Showcase is held every Monday night from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Iguana VIP Lounge, 240 W. 54th St. (between Broadway & 8th Ave.), upstairs at the Iguana Restaurant in NYC. No reservations are required; just show up and put your name on the sign-up sheet. Back Stage was there the night of Dec. 28 to catch the action. Before we give our report, though, one matter of business needs to be taken care of.


Billy and Judi are the first to point out that their showcase would not be possible without the help of their dedicated and professional staff. Seven Moshod handles the lights and sound in the intimate Iguana VIP Lounge. Haim Cotton is an exceptional pianist for those performers requiring professional accompaniment. Last but certainly not least, Jackie Voyages is your friendly host and behind-the-scenes talent coordinator for Billy and Judi. Of course, all three are talented performers in their own right. Haim has recently released a solo piano album ("Mending Sparks") and Seven is being coached and developed by Billy and Judi for a successful singing career.


Now to the action! Waiting for the singers to perform, the first thing to catch your eye is the beautiful performance space that is the Iguana VIP Lounge. Cozy and intimate with brick walls and small tables, every seat gives you a great view of the raised stage. The second thing to attract your attention is the Iguana's cabaret menu, offering excellent Mexican "appeteasers" and over 20 different margaritas (the coconut-flavored did not disappoint!).


Billy & Judi started the evening with a brief welcome and then warmed up the crowd with a few opening numbers. One by one the performers took the stage. A couple things became immediately apparent. First of all, the acoustics of the space combined with the professional PA system resulted in a great, clear sound. Secondly, sitting in the audience I was struck by the immediacy and passion of the singers.


These people were up on stage baring their hearts and souls and the crowd was eating it up. We were treated to a wide variety of songs and musical styles (with a little spoken word thrown in for good measure). I know this sounds corny, but there was a real feeling of "sharing" among the performers and those of us in the audience. It was a local NYC crowd in the best of senses: very (very) diverse, warm, supportive, and FUN!! Even if you're not a performer, the next time you find yourself looking for something to do on a Monday night or if your tourist friends happen to be in town, stop by the Iguana VIP Lounge and catch the show – you won't be disappointed!


For a singer there's just no substitute for the skill and experience gained performing live in front of an audience. Whether you're an experienced performer looking to hone your craft or just starting out, Billy & Judi's Singer Showcase at the Iguana VIP Lounge is an excellent opportunity. Best of all, as your proficiency and comfort level increase, you may be invited to perform a 30-minute set as a featured performer in Billy & Judi's weekly Sunday Musical Revue at the Iguana. Over the years, Billy and Judi have also placed singers in Atlantic City and Las Vegas shows, aboard cruise lines, and even introduced a select few to talent agencies including William Morris and record producers such as Quincy Jones and Emelio Estefan.


For more information on the Billy Shepard & Judi Jourdan Singer Showcase, visit the website www.gottasingnyc.com.
Back Stage casting notices: Monday Open Mic at 'Iguana'; NYC Singing Idol Contest


Very special thanks to Back Stage intern Jun Yong Choi from Korea for all photos!

--Andy Valvano


Wanna-bes belt out tunes at Off-B'way open mic
Posted Sunday, July 15th 2007

Rebecca Lee Lerman

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 life."

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 show.

"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.

"Are 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 the city.

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.

The 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.

Billy 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."

When 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 Last" and

'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.

"You 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.

Billy Shepard & Judi Jourdan/NYC and Lou Alexander/ Beverly Hills, CA are so proud of you Karina for the Grammy nomination.  When we discovered and managed you after you auditioned at our open mike showcase, we knew you were special! 

After flying you to LA to sing for Quincy Jones and to Miami for Emilio Estevan, Quincy Jones wrote in his book to us: "DEAR BILLY, TOGETHER WE WILL TAKE HER TO THE MOON.  MY PROPS, QUINCY JONES" 

Well Karina, you're on the way.  Congratulations