Spirit of New York: How I Became a Singing Waitress on a Dining Cruise

Spirit of New York: How I Became a Singing Waitress on a Dining Cruise

July 19, 2011 at 6:00 am

MetroFocus intern by day, singing waitress by night: Mahalet Dejeune aboard the Spirit of New York as it cruises the Hudson River. Photo courtesy of Patience Patrick.

It was the beginning of summer in the city.  I was a penniless undergraduate with nothing but salad dressing and eggs in my refrigerator. May had already passed me by and June was rolling through its days like marbles on a slanted plane. I was in desperate need of a job so I turned to the chaos of Craigslist to supplement the super NYC lifestyle I was determined to have.

After reworking the same resume to reflect as many jobs as I could pretend to know how to do, I found the first promising and potentially amazing listing: a call for singing servers on Spirit Entertainment Cruises.

The Almost Unsuccessful Audition

A day or two after I applied, an email invited me to audition with two memorized songs and a strict warning: “No A cappella singing, please.”

I hadn’t prepared showcase songs since I auditioned for “The Music Man” in high school. But I scanned all major music websites and applications for “liked” or “loved” songs until I finally decided on “Chasing Pavements” by Adele and “Black Horse and Cherry Tree” by KT Tunstall.

I felt relieved to have a job, like anyone in this economy, but also elated to know that I put myself out there and was deemed talented.

A few days later, I boarded a boat at Chelsea Piers to audition. With my leg shaking and a mild queasiness brewing in my belly, I awaited my turn among 15 or so other hopefuls. When my name was called, I walked through heavy white doors, handed over my CD and gave a slightly airy but on-pitch rendition of my first song. I was about three lines into the second when the music director abruptly said “Thank you” and turned off the music.

Convinced I had butchered my audition, I walked along the Hudson to my tiny West Village apartment, preparing to wallow in my supposed ineptitude.

But as soon as I made it home, I received an email offering me the job.

I was relieved, like anyone in this economy would be, but with an additional sort of elation:  I put myself out there and was deemed talented.

For singing servers like MetroFocus intern Mahalet Dejeune (above right), the highlight is the two minutes when they get to take off their servers' aprons, don their sequined vests and sing their solos. Photo courtesy of Patience Patrick.

What It’s Like to Be a Singing Waitress on a Dining Cruise

My job consists of serving drinks and directing the customers to the self-serve buffet on either the 600-passenger Spirit of New York or 400-passenger Spirit of New Jersey, both of which dock in Chelsea Piers.

The reason for boarding always varies; sometimes it’s church celebrations, family reunions and corporate get-togethers; other times it’s proms or weddings.

The cruise’s route and routine, however, is always the same.

Once the boat has left the pier, three of us perform the “Send-Off,” an original song-and-dance medley of Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” and Enrique Iglesias’ “I Like It” aimed at pumping up the audience and wishing them a fun trip.

For the customers, the highlight of the cruise is the Statue of Liberty — the boat gets as close to the Lady of the Harbor as the Coast Guard determines is legally possible in our post-9/11 era.

But for me and the other singing servers, the highlight is the two minutes we can take off the apron, don a gold sequined vest and sing our solos.

There Are the Other Servers and Then There’s Me… But Not Really

Many of the waiters and waitresses hope to be successful performers. They work on the cruise to make money while they hunt for auditions. I’m a journalism student who hopes to make a difference on the world stage of international affairs, not a literal stage in some off or off-off Broadway venue in Midtown Manhattan.

And yet, this distinction is irrelevant when it’s my turn to sing.

Just before the DJ calls out my name to sing “Fire” by the Pointer Sisters, I quickly apply my red lipstick, slip on the aforementioned gold sequined vest, drag the microphone stand to the center of the dance floor and snap my fingers to the beat. I pretend to be a woman many years older than I really am, someone with a sultry story to tell. I make eye contact with the person directly in front of me for the first stanza, take the mic off the stand and strut through the audience for the rest of the song.

I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively, I smile sweetly and I do with my hands that thing singers do as the music moves through them.

For these two minutes, I am a real singer; a valued one, paid to perform, appreciated by the audience — one who gets a rowdy applause when she bows.

But the two minutes always end and then it’s off with the magic gold vest and back to clearing dishes, making coffee and cleaning up until the boat finally docks and we  all go home.