Atlanta’s Puddles Pity Party survives ‘America’s Got Talent’ first round: ‘This hulking Pavarotti with a retro hipness’

AMERICA’S GOT TALENT — Auditions Pasadena Civic Auditorium — Pictured: Puddles Pity Party — (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

This was posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Atlanta hasn’t had much luck with “America’s Got Talent” over its first 11 seasons. Not a single act from the area has ever made it to the finals, much less win the $1 million.

Could Puddles Pity Party change all that? The six-foot-eight melancholy clown came on stage, silent until he sang a lovely baritone version of Sia’s “Chandelier.” The judges praised him for his unexpected originality. And Simon Cowell said he’ll be happy to not know who he is. “I have a real problem with clowns but you may have turned me,” Cowell said, who added that he is “fantastically brilliant.”

He is actually Mike Geier, a long-time Atlanta entertainer who has been performing around town since 1995, especially the Variety Playhouse. Geier holds regular concerts, including an annual holiday jubliee. He did an “interview” in 2015 with the Los Angeles Times via Skype as Puddles consisting of nods and hand gestures. Through email, he wrote the Times:

“I’m just a regular guy,” he wrote. “I’m drawn to sad songs, beautiful songs. Old or new, doesn’t matter. Melancholy is where it’s at for me.”

A long-time freelance writer for the AJC Jon Waterhouse profiled him last year. In the story,  he noted: “Throughout the years, he could be found fronting the neo-swing of Kingsized; sharing the stage as Puddles with a gaggle of surly clowns in the band Greasepaint; waxing Polynesian pop in Tongo Hiti at Trader Vic’s; and generating standing-room-only rave-ups with his Elvis Royale concerts. Still widespread notoriety remained elusive.”

Then four years ago, Puddles went viral with his cabaret cover of Lorde’s “Royals” with Postmodern Jukebox. It has been watched 19 million times.

Geier explained to ATLArts in 2013 how the Puddles character came about:

We had this band called Greasepaint that had this clown character called Puddles, and [his wife] Shannon had developed this character called MonkeyZuma, and they’re sort of partners in crime in these weirdo art-music things. And I was doing Puddles in the Dames Aflame show as an operatic moment. We were also using the character of MonkeyZuma in the Dames Aflame show. So in the course of doing these funky local gigs, we became pretty tight with Cartoon Network and “Adult Swim” guys, writing some songs for them and being involved in some of their things: “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” “Squidbillies.” We did a show with Cartoon Network called “Sunday Pants,” where we wrote music. I was a character in this live-action portion of it.

After the video went viral, he and his wife Shannon Newton created a traveling show based on Puddles. Geier described Puddles in the third person to the AJC: “Each show is a unique experience. It’s hard to predict. Puddles sings beautifully, but how he interacts with particular audience members is nuanced. Some might be very shy and some might be very willing and enthusiastic. … Something new seems to occur at every show that involves the audience and their willingness to play along with Puddles.”

He has built a sizable fan base in town, including DJ and former 99X jock Yvonne Monet, who told me tonight: “He taught me the magic of playing a sad song at a happy time.”

Grant Henry, who owns Church in Old Fourth Ward and has known Geier for 20 years, calls him “his own guy. He has a vision nobody can derail and I think he just knows it’s the most powerful presentation/juxtaposition to his powerful voice. Mike leaves everyone wanting more. Brilliant.”

Local actor Bart Hansard said until now, Geier has always been a man who has preferred to stay on the fringes. “I was surprised he would do something as ‘mainstream’ as AGT, but not surprised that he would kill it out there…His size adds to the incredible impression of him as this hulking Pavarotti with a retro hipness.”

Describing Puddles’ appeal, Geier said last year: “People are connecting on these very deep, philosophical levels. Puddles is big, hulking and intimidating to some, but he has this obvious vulnerability and sensitivity. … Then he sort of pushes his honest feelings through the music and shows that it’s OK to cry it out and be a little sad. There’s a release in that, and we can all do it together. It’s cathartic.”


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