Friday night at our vigil in Carleton Place we had Pat Willbond sing a song to open the event. I wanted to announce him properly and found out he had won Home Grown Cafe in the 90s. Home Grown Cafe???
That of course set my mind wandering and I had to document it so people would remember and never forget that 30 minutes a week the family was glued to the TV.
There are 150,000 viewers every Sunday night to see what appears to be endless lineup of eight-year-old tapdancers. Arrive at CJOH studios half -hour before taping begins. Big lineups outside for members of audience, mostly relatives and friends of performers. Demand for tickets so great that bleachers added to Cafe set to accommodate 140 people. Tickets all gone a week ago.
Wait in hallway with dancers, singers, etc. Hear someone doing vocal exercises. Hear someone practising stepdancing. Try to remain anonymous to forestall lobbying. Judge must be impartial. Say hello to Joel Stapansky, show’s producer, diminutive fireball constantly busy doing several jobs at once, Stapansky tells us tonight’s shows, taped two at time for fall season that started Sunday, will feature adult entertainers.
This is a relief. Younger performers are more difficult to judge, and Stapansky has many stories of mothers of children waiting for him after show to attack him physically. Big change in program this season is that there are now eight acts per show instead of six, cutting performance time from 21/2 minutes to two.
The idea is to make things go more quickly, givethe show brighter pace, provide TV exposure to more of 1,400 people a year who audition. Stapansky perpetually amazed at program’s success, thrilled to have it mentioned in same breath as such ratings giants. “Any time you see Homegrown Cafe and Roseanne in any proximity at all” he says, shaking head. Studio finally opens.
Take seat on raised dais with fellow judges, talent agent Eileen Hennemann, radio host Michael O’Brien. Receive briefing sheet instructing us how to rate performers. Key is entertainment value: must judge two acts in each of vocal, dance, variety categories, rate each on scale of 1 to 10 on basis of self-confidence, material, salesmanship, pizzazz, which act we would rather see again. Asked not to consult each other before marking scoresheets.
Program director tells audience to applaud quickly to make it sound like more people. Applaud like mad for host J. J. Clarke, CJOH weatherman who dons tuxedo for Homegrown Cafe gig. Clarke introduces acts, keeps audience amused during breaks when microphones go on blink, lights go off, other small disasters of taped television.
Clarke has large supply of shameless jokes: the two Newfie moose hunters; the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman at the Olympics; the bee at the bar mitzvah, the stuttering Bible salesman, etc. Taping begins with two female singers, continues with two sets of dancers, two male singers. Have seconds to decide who is better and by how much.
Things get trickier in variety category, when two women from area church, one playing piano and the other ringing bells, compete against older gentleman who performs ragtime piano number, occasionally shouting, “Boogie woogie!” Even more difficult is variety pair in second show when short, grandmotherly woman doing bare-legged jitterbug with tall, young partner ” competes against South American man in costume playing pan flute and some kind of Peruvian mandolin.
However, I do my best, and sense that choices would be the same if winners had been chosen by audience vote. Stapansky, who says he can’t wait for interactive -TV will let viewers at home decide which act is best, and involve the public more. This I would eliminate the need for celebrity judges, spell end of career on bench. On the other hand, I did manage to get out without being attacked by mothers of any losing eight-year-old tapdancers.
The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada27 Sep 1993, Mon • Page 22