On a typical day, downtown workers stroll through the quiet of Court Square to a handful of nearby restaurants. A few homeless people sprawl on benches, and pigeons strut near the fountain.
But last Wednesday, passersby were treated to something a little more lively as 22 downtown workers competed for a $100 grand prize in the Center City Commission's "Downtown Alive Corporate Karaoke Challenge."
On a small stage erected in the northwest corner of the park, petite Christin Yates belted the lyrics to Aretha Franklin's "Respect."
As the Archer Malmo employee found her soulful groove, a skinny man danced to the beat. A woman carrying a plastic grocery sack joined him as men and women in business attire took pictures of the pair.
A few women wearing Shelby County government polo shirts sang along and clapped their hands to the beat from their front-row seats. About 50 people, many standing, gathered in front of the stage for the show.
Several days a month, the Center City Commission hosts free mid-day educational and arts activities in the Downtown Alive program. Earlier this year, the group hosted a surprisingly popular walking tour of downtown manhole covers. Other highlights have included an Opera Memphis performance in the Brinkley Plaza Courtyard and a ballet recital by Company D, a group of dancers with Down Syndrome.
"In other parts of the city, you have office parks. But we think of all of downtown as an office campus. We're trying to make that space more vibrant with these programs," said Leslie Gower, communications director for the Center City Commission.
After several performances of karaoke standards such as Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" and blues staple "Mustang Sally," city councilmen Myron Lowery and Edmund Ford Jr. took the stage.
"Ed and I have never sung together before," warned Lowery as the Temptations' "My Girl" cued up in the background.
"It might be the last time too," Ford said and laughed.
The duet managed to make it through the song, though somewhat off-key. Lowery, who later admitted he often sings in the shower, took most of the high notes.
Archer Malmo employee Joey Kaegi performed a raucous version of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild." At one point, he took a wide stance, held his microphone low, and strummed it like an air guitar.
"I love you, downtown! Sorry I can't sing, but it was fun," screamed Kaegi at the end of his song. Then, instead of stepping down from the stage, he exited in a front flip.
AutoZone employee Mario Lindsey began his rendition of Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance" and several surprised audience members murmured how Lindsey sounded exactly like Digital Underground's lead singer Humpty Hump. Kaegi airplane danced in front of the stage, and Lowery briefly attempted the Robot from his front-row seat.
Lindsey later admitted that "Humpty Dance" is his favorite karaoke song, and he actually has a fake nose like the one Humpty Hump wears in the group's 1990 music video.
"I would have brought my nose, but I didn't know this was going on today," Lindsey confessed. "I was just over here getting a Subway sandwich."
Lindsey picked a good day to eat at the downtown Subway. At the end of the competition, he won first place and the $100 prize. He said he'd like to see Center City host karaoke again, and he thinks the Downtown Alive program is a great way to get workers active in the downtown community.
"Downtown can be so dead sometimes," Lindsey said. "Stuff like this gets people out and walking around."
Upcoming Downtown Alive events include a program on Elmwood Cemetery residents on Friday, June 13th, and a performance by Reflections Dance Group on June 19th. Both events are at Court Square from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
To see video of the winner — and council members Edmund Ford Jr. and Myron Lowery — performing, visit memphisflyer.com.