All Keyed Up

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A rap duo follows: a male-female combo of one white cat named, appropriately enough, "Apollo," and his partner, a booful black chick named Sherie. Apollo's ghetto'd out in a white jumpsuit and Green Bay Packers lid, while Sherie's dressed more conventionally in jeans and a sexy negligee-like blouse. Unfortunately for the couple, the audience is not feelin' them, and there's soon a battle between folks jingling keys and those clapping to give the pair a chance. Finally, the keys win out, and "Hit the Road, Jack" flows from the speakers. "Someone needs to go solo," joshes Pierre.

Another rap twosome called Scorcher takes the stage, but they're even weaker than Apollo and Sherie, and the keys are soon shakin' like Polaroid pictures in an OutKast video. But the hip-hop duo YBM is better: two guys dressed very street, one in a yellow jersey and dreads, and the other in a plain red pullover and a white cap, each belting out a song "for the ladies." The crowd lets them live. Pierre then hands out a few tee shirts to those he's messed with, including Jett, and then the last performer, Stacy, is up. In jeans and a black top, she sings her heart out, but the audience doesn't like what it hears, and she gets the key treatment.

Those who didn't feel the wrath of the keys are brought back onstage, and Pierre's assistant, the gorgeous Shani, plays Kiki Shepard (ˆ la "Showtime at the Apollo"), holding her hand over each performer's head to let the crowd show its love. Soul Ghetto and Judge Jones emerge victorious.

Afterward, the J-girl and I scramble to conversate with as many folks as possible. (The contest lasts from 8 to 10 p.m., and from 10 p.m. to midnight Jackson's reverts back to a regular club.) Most people either head to the dance floor, or mingle off to the sides. We catch up with Soul Ghetto's lovely manager Kanei, tr's chichi in a white cocktail dress and fur.

"Soul Ghetto's only been together for three months," Kanei tells us. "They're two people from L.A. and two from Phoenix that I put together. The four songs they have right now are all a cappella, as we're trying to do something fresh."

We wish Kanei luck, which I don't think Soul Ghetto will need because they're so talented, and because their act offers such a unique, Cotton Club-like experience. Near the bar, we run into Stacy, who I think was unfairly keyed this evening, but she's taking it like a pro.

"Stacy, I loved your voice, and you're easy on the eyes, so what happened up there tonight?" I ask.

"You know, Kreme, I can't call it," shrugs the married mother of two, who by day works as a counselor for mental-health patients. "The audience made its decision, and it's all good, but I'll be back. When they stopped the music, that even made my spirit larger."

Stacy has to wait two weeks, according to the rules, then she can return to the showcase and give it another go. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Jett's off to one side, partying with this fella named Fly, who has a little harem going on. Fly has short dreads and says he's down here visiting from Seattle, where he works in the music industry.

"It's cool," Fly says of the event. "I'm going to bring some of my artists down here. I'm all over -- the Bay Area; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Las Vegas; Anchorage, Alaska. I just had some of my artists in Phoenix, but I didn't know about this night. So I'm going to bring 'em back for the talent show."

"Looks like you're having your own talent competition right here," Jett says of Fly's women.

"What can I say, it must be my aura," he says, laughing heartily.

The Jettster's ready to sign up for Fly's seraglio, but this bee-atch has got to drive me home, so she ain't going nowhere. I pull her toward the door, where we run into Pierre and chat for a minute. He tells us about playing Halle Berry's boyfriend in B*A*P*S, and getting to put the lip-lock on her, as well as working with Dave Chappelle back in the day. Pierre splits his time between Phoenix and the entertainment industry in L.A., and he has some advice for aspiring celebrities here in the PHX.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons