WOOTEN COLUMN: That sinking, lip-syncing feeling strikes again
First rule of show business: The show must go on.
Second rule of show business: Always leave the audience wanting more.
What has evidently become another rule of show business:
Lip-syncing is OK.
That's the expert consensus on Beyonce's non-live rendition of the National Anthem at President Barack Obama's second inauguration Monday. Kelly Clarkson let the inaugural audience hear her live voice on “My Country Tis of Thee,” as James Taylor did on “America the Beautiful.” But Beyonce lip-synced “The Star Spangled Banner” along to her own recorded voice — and to the reported chagrin of some U.S. Marine Band members who had to play along by merely pretending to play their instruments.
Beyonce did initially fool many who watched from the Capitol or at home, though. Now the question shifts: Will it be live Beyonce or lip-syncing Beyonce as the star of next Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII halftime show in New Orleans?
At XLVI last year, Madonna lip-synced. At XLV the previous year, the Black Eyed Peas did not.
Regardless, lip-syncing has become commonplace. Even cellist Yo Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman went the recorded route together at Obama's first inaugural four years ago. However, they planned to perform live before very cold weather and brisk wind prompted the faux option.
Lip-syncing still seems as phony baloney to this aging Animals fan as it did way back when on “American Bandstand.” But at least Beyonce — like most of the rest who indulge in it —lip-synced her own voice Monday.
Milli Vanilli did not. That song-and-dance duo hit big — then crashed hard after a technical malfunction at a 1989 “live” performance helped expose this fraud: The voices on their records were not their own.
Hmm. What about the potential benefits of lip-syncing — and even pantomiming — in politics, which after all is just another branch of show biz?
Politico reported Wednesday that “a Democrat close to the White House” said Vice President Joe Biden, who turned 70 two months ago, is “intoxicated by the idea” of running for president in 2016. If so, some sober lip-syncing might keep his promotion chances from sinking.
Obama's gaffe-gushing sidekick told a largely black Virginia audience last August that Mitt Romney “said in the first hundred days he's gonna let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They're gonna put y'all back in chains.”
Would Biden's handlers have let him lip-sync that race-baiting line — apparently ad-libbed — in a recorded speech?
Is letting him go live really a good idea?
During the 2008 campaign, the then-VP nominee shouted to Missouri state Sen. Chuck Graham in the front row: “Chuck, stand up, let the people see you.” After belatedly realizing that Graham was wheelchair-bound, Biden said: “Oh, God love ya. What am I talking about?”
Sure, many Republicans don't know what they're talking about, either. So why limit politicians to their own voices?
Conservatives still clamoring to channel Ronald Reagan, rather than merely quoting “The Great Communicator,” could, a la Milli Vanilli, pantomime to the sound of his voice for freedom booming: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Then again, that particular line might sound a bit dated.
Another obsolete theme: There's scant chance of Obama, who stressed “collective” Nanny Statism Monday, lip-syncing President Bill Clinton's premature 1996 proclamation that “the era of big government is over.”
Anyway, there's something spontaneously special about listening to somebody taking the risks of singing, speaking or playing live. Forty-two years after hearing Taylor — and Carole King — rock the house at the old Carolina Coliseum in Columbia, this listener again enjoyed hearing the fond and familiar voice of “Sweet Baby James” Monday, backed only by his own, also live, acoustic guitar.
Meanwhile, before too harshly scorning Milli Vanilli, keep in mind that pantomiming to somebody else's voice also takes a bit of talent — and a lot of nerve. That hard lesson was learned 46 years ago by a 13-year-old drafted into a Methodist Youth Fellowship “talent” show at John Wesley.
In show-biz lingo, he bombed with his pantomime performance of the Kingsmen's haunting — and widely misunderstood — love ballad “Louie, Louie.”
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.