Almost every Saturday night, 35-year-old Alshadera Dawson gets in his '91 Buick Le Sabre, cranks up some classic R&B and hip hop, and drives to Devine's Sports Bar in Durham. That's when he becomes "Shade D."
He greets the regulars with handshakes as they congratulate him on the previous week's performance. He then makes his way to the DJ booth to get the book of karaoke songs. People scream his name as he walks past and ask for special requests. When the DJ calls him to the stage, the crowd goes wild. It's not your usual musical performance. There's no band. Dawson isn't being paid. He can perform a variety of musical selections as if they were his own songs. That's because the key to Dawson's performance isn't a musical instrument. It's a machine.
Dawson, by day a mild-mannered student at N.C. Central University working on his B.A. in mass communication with plans to work in radio, is by night a karaoke phenomenon.
"I have a passion for dancing and performing," he says, noting that he doesn't consider himself to be a great singer--he considers himself to be an entertainer. "It feels good to bring some type of joy and excitement to people ... having them so entertained by me."
Shade D's big gig now is the Saturday night karaoke at Devine's from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. He's been performing in clubs in Durham and Greensboro since May 2005, developing fans who follow him from club to club. He sings all kinds of music, from country to pop to rap and even classic soul, and since karaoke crowds aren't there to hear one band or one kind of music, he has something for everyone--as reflected in the wide range of requests made by his regular followers.
Dawson's love of the art of karaoke comes from a long interest in music from early childhood. He remembers loving the music of the '70s beginning when he was 5 years old, making him want to emulate the idols of the times like Prince, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. His fascination with music reached another plateau in the seventh grade, when he diverted his attention to playing the flute and the xylophone at Rogers-Herr Middle School in Durham. This talent only matured in the Hillside High School marching and symphonic band.
Being around his fellow bandmates gave him courage he never imagined: "My fellow band students made me come out more to where I wanted to be more of an entertainer," he says. He then was the drum major at Livingstone College in Salisbury from 1990 to 1993, and Livingstone's music director, H. Wade Johnson, inspired him to become an all-around musician.
But the person responsible for getting Dawson into karaoke was a childhood friend, Gregory Monroe Jr., also known as "G-Money."
"All I did was open him up to a whole new avenue of fun," Monroe says. Monroe sang in church, then in the N.C. Central University touring choir for six years, and then for seven years in an old-school, a cappella group called Satisfaction. Dawson admired Monroe's vocal ability every time he performed karaoke in Greensboro. That gave him the nerve to give karaoke a try.
Now, "I'm actually learning something from him," Monroe says. He respects how Shade D puts his heart into every performance. Shade D not only sings, he brings props. This brings us to his tour de force, when he dons a fake nose and glasses.
Shade D's biggest claim to fame in the world of karaoke is "The Humpty Dance." He makes his voice sound exactly like Humpty Dumpty from the Digital Underground and puts on the nose and glasses, doing his impression of Humpty Dumpty.
"He gets one of the best responses every time," says Marquita Bernard of Idol Time Entertainment, who's the DJ at Devine's on Saturday nights. And she knows about entertaining--Bernard performed with her mother and sister in the band Mother Soul for about six years and also did theater. It's part of the DJ's job to get the crowd involved in the show, and she gets help from a co-DJ, her brother, Justin Bernard.
"It's not about how great you sing," she says. "It's about your whole attitude and stepping out of the box."
Joseph Lutz, a fellow karaoke singer, enjoys Shade D's energy. Karaoke brings people together, he says, either singing or getting on stage to dance alongside the performer.
Shade D says people miss the days when songs were about hanging out, dancing and having fun. That's the reason why he commits himself to entertaining the crowd. Shade D looks forward to karaoke each week for instant gratification. "It's the love of the moment," he says, "along with the fascination of the response from the crowd."