ask a waiter

Carrie Jennings of Spotlight Live Doesn't Mind If You're Horrible at Karaoke

"I sang New York, New York once with this little girl."Photo: Melissa Hom

When we karaoke, we don’t really like to see ourselves on a screen — it usually means the Japanese guy at the front desk is replaying closed-circuit footage and telling us why he needs to keep our security deposit. But Spotlight Live, the restaurant that projects your performances onto Times Square, is a decidedly more civilized place, as we learned when we tried, rather unsuccessfully, to get Carrie Jennings to reveal the horrors of working amid amateur renditions of Vanilla Ice. According to Jennings, who moved here from Florida six months ago with a degree in musical theater, her job is about as sweet as a big ball of cotton candy.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen onstage?
One lady had a harmonica. It was a rendition of “Proud Mary.” She just blew everyone away — the whole place stopped what they were doing.

What songs do you hear the most?
“Dancing Queen.” “Since U Been Gone.” “Son a Preacherman” you hear a lot. “9 to 5” is there also. “Friends in Low Places.”

Is it torturous when someone gets onstage and is really bad? How do you block it out?
You get used to it. There are backup singers and dancers; they help everyone out. You see they’re happy, so it’s okay.

Ever see any interesting dance routines?
There was this one kid from out of town — he was 15 or 16. He got up and did “Ice Ice Baby” and had a complete dance the whole way. This guy was doing “Billy Jean” and was doing the moonwalk all over the place.

Which songs get stuck in your head? Are you haunted by certain performances in your sleep?
“It’s Raining Men,” “Suddenly See,” by KT Tunstall. Once I leave, I don’t hear the songs in my head. I hear them so often, but there’s so many different ways: One night I heard a 7-year-old girl do “New York, New York,” then I heard a guy in his sixties do it.

Do you try to nudge people onto the stage?
That’s all they need — to get to the point of signing up, then they’re golden. I’m like, “I promise you’ll have fun. There’s people up there with you.” The TV screens are so big that you’re not looking at anyone else while you’re doing it.

Is it a pain to serve families? Do the kids act up?
Not really. At the tables we have screens where you can send text messages and pictures to different tables. There’s recording booths also. There’s something for everyone to do.

Have you karaoked yet?
People are like, “I’ll get up there if you get up there.” I sang “New York, New York” once with this little girl.

How about Kerry Simon, the “rock-and-roll chef”?
He hasn’t. I wish he would.

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