What the Mirror Sees: Secrets of Lip Sync Prep

By CHRIS BURRELL

Christopher Brophy is a little embarrassed to say this, but by the time he hits the stage Sunday night at the Atlantic Connection in Oak Bluffs, he will have spent innumerable hours in front of a mirror, riveted by the sight of his own lips.

Odds are, he isn't alone.

Eight acts have already signed up to compete in the 17th annual WMVY and Atlantic Connection Lip Sync Contest, now just three days away.

One of the last bashes of the Vineyard off-season social calendar, the contest is a fundraiser for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Martha's Vineyard and a huge draw. This Sunday, starting around 8 p.m., the nightclub on Circuit avenue will more than likely be a sea of people. Average turnout is upwards of 350, says Michael Santoro, managing partner for the Atlantic Connection.

But why would a lip sync contest generate this kind of buzz? The answer lies in the element of suspense. "Surprises always seem to pop up," says Mr. Santoro. "You never know what's going to take place."

Ask someone who's planning to enter Sunday night's contest about their act, and you'll get the Sydney Bristow treatment: Sorry, it's classified information, and you don't have the clearance.

The lip sync contest is way more than just mouthing the words to a Madonna song. Contestants - not all of them but many - view this show as a chance to pull out all the stops from dance moves to costuming and a whole lot of theatrics.

Dave Sawyer donned a cape and a pair of tights two years ago and ran around the stage with arms outstretched, singing the theme from Greatest American Hero. The year before that, he opted for Billy Idol's White Wedding, a decision that demanded bleaching his hair.

"I thought if I'm going to do this, I'm going to go all the way," he says.

Going all the way is an apt description of what Nancy Gaffney and her trio of friends pulled off last year. They ordered outfits from Victoria's Secret and performed a rendition of Lady Marmalade from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

"We were four ladies in lingerie and feather boas and not a whole lot else," says Ms. Gaffney.

They went for the shock factor and tied for first place, a $500 purse. But showing some skin does not always guarantee victory. A few years ago, Mr. Brophy - who has a penchant for facetiousness - thought he had covered all the bases with his Marky Mark routine. He traveled to Filene's Basement for just the right pair of Calvin Klein's and put baseballs in his side-pockets to make sure gravity would do the right thing with his trousers.

"I did 400,000 sit-ups and stripped down to my underwear and still didn't get called back," he says, shaking his head.

Impressing the judges is obviously one goal, but winning the crowd seems to be the main strategy.

"We consider how the audience will receive it," says Jil Matrisciano, who has entered the contest four times and plans to compete again on Sunday with her two friends.

Contestants draw numbers at the beginning to determine what order they go on stage. In Ms. Mastrisciano's view, the later the better.

"The excitement is building and building," she says. "Everyone gets caught up in the hype and the judges give 10s. The people who go last are the people who win."

The judging panel this year consists of WMVY deejay Bill Narkiewicz, former TV sitcom writer Marty Nadler, Boston comedian Tony V. and Oak Bluffs business owner Renee Balter. Their assessments ultimately determine who walks away with the top three cash prizes.

But veterans of the lip sync contest insist that the reason they've climbed on stage isn't for the money. It's for the glory.

"It's a moment of being a rock star without having to play an instrument or train your voice," says Ms. Matrisciano, who has her own dance company.

Indeed, the lip sync experience is much like the air-guitar days you remember from being a teenager, a time to indulge in a fantasy, but this time it's not done in the privacy of your bedroom.

"Remember the Kiss guy," says Mr. Brophy. "He completely recreated Gene Simmons."

The adrenaline rush is not to be underestimated. "It's a riot," says Ms. Gaffney.

"Out of control," are Mr. Sawyer's words.

"The whole other kind of person who goes is a rookie who's in the dressing room, thinking ‘Oh, what the hell did I do?' For these people, it's like bungee-jumping," says Mr. Brophy. "When they come off stage, they're like, ‘Oh my God.' "

Mr. Brophy and Mr. Sawyer are entering the contest Sunday as a duet for the second year in a row. Last year, they tied for first place with Ms. Gaffney doing a souped-up remix of David Bowie's Under Pressure. They both perform together as members of the Island comedy troupe, WIMP.

Clearly, they aren't divulging any clues about what's cooking for Sunday's show, but they're not shy about the finer points of competing in a lip-sync contest.

"Nimble lips are an asset," says Mr. Brophy. "You have to over-enunciate."

Songs shouldn't go on too long, the two men say, no more than five minutes. "You want to choose a song people will recognize and relate to," says Mr. Sawyer.

"Once you get the song, you're listening to it over and over," says Mr. Brophy. "It also involves a shameful amount of mirror time."

The other rule is that there really are no rules to the lip sync contest. The two men marvel at the creativity and boldness of Nora Laudani, a friend who used sock puppets to lip sync along with a Jefferson Airplane song.

"It was sock-syncing," says Mr. Brophy.

Contest organizers are scrambling a bit to reel in some more contestants. They may allow some karaoke singing if they can't fill the bill with more lip-syncers.

"The problem," admits Mr. Sawyer, "is finding people crazy enough to get up and do something."

But the payoffs are big. Janice Perrin, program director for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Martha's Vineyard, says the organization counts on raising between $5,000 and $8,000 from the event. Currently, 56 people on the Island volunteer as mentors, spending two to four hours a week with a child.

For contestants who invest in props and costumes, there's the benefit of having weird stuff to wear the rest of the year. "I've been a cop for Halloween for three years," says Ms. Matrisciano.

And for the audience, says Mr. Brophy with a touch of drama: "It's one of the last big flings before summer crushes us with its heavy boot."

Tickets for the lip sync contest are $12 in advance and can be purchased at the Atlantic Connection, Mosher Photo, Trader Fred's, Jim Package Store and Alley's Store.