Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Legendary Sondra Prill

I have decided this evening that in lieu of my own attempts at creativity, I will introduce you to someone else's. I encountered a talented young lady named Sondra Prill when I was unearthing old videos for my "worst song ever" blog last week, and I absolutely must share with you her amazing voice and artistic musings. With no further ado, I shall "cut and paste" the rest...

The following is courtesy of a blog entitled,
"UBU Web: The 365 Days Project", written by a witty guy named Eric Williams in December 2003 , to give you some background on Sultry Sondra (videos attached below):

The mid-eighties to early-nineties were a golden age for public-access cable in Tampa, Florida - at least judging from the "highlight" tapes my brother sent me. But no wannabe who appeared before the cameras of Jones Intercable Channel 12 has left a more indelible imprint on my consciousness than Sondra Prill.

Sondra was the star of the imaginatively titled "My Show". (Hey, Charlie Chaplin wrote a book called "My Autobiography" and he was a genius, so maybe we should cut her some slack.) In its three installments aired over the course of several years, "My Show" provided a showcase for Sondra's ever-evolving range of things at which she tried to be talented.

Episode One was the most primitive technically. Most of the segments were studio-bound, shot in front of that all-purpose cable-access backdrop: a trellis. Sondra introduced her guest, Dave Turner, a mountainous Charlie-Daniels-esque country singer, who ably began to sing the male half of the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton duet "Islands In The Stream". Then came time for Sondra to fill Dolly's vocal shoes (or whatever) in a voice simultaneously so shrill and so flat that it's remarkable Turner could remain on pitch…or refrain from crying. But Turner proved impervious enough to Sondra's shrieks that they went on to perform two more duets ("Your Cheatin' Heart" and "Behind Closed Doors"), with Sondra over-exaggerating her facial expressions and body movements to drive home every nuance of the songs. In "Islands In The Stream", when she sang the lyrics "No one in between", she waved her hands between herself and Turner like a "Price Is Right" model or David Copperfield assistant, just to make it absolutely clear that there was indeed no one standing between them.

Then it was time for Sondra to take the solo spotlight, where her abilities could truly shine - first on a version of Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You", with enough sustained flat notes to shatter all the china in your neighborhood. Finally came the show's production highlight, an out-of-studio video of Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love", shot at a local fern bar with a handful of uncomfortable-looking extras. For some reason, Sondra decided to sing as if she were the bride of Frankenstein, with her vocals taking on a high quavery Elvira-doing-the-Monster-Mash quality and her face contorted into a fright mask of wide eyes and gnashing teeth.

Episode Two showed considerable evolution, both in higher production values and in Sondra's range as an entertainer. No longer content simply to be the next Dolly/Whitney/Elsa Lanchester, Sondra now wished to be Lily Tomlin as well, introducing the songs while dressed as an old lady character named Marjorie and a four-year-old girl named Miss Melissa. Some of Marjorie and Melissa's bits were crude -- tending toward the snot-fixated range of the comedy spectrum - but their defining characteristic was their utter incomprehensibility. Here's one of Miss Melissa's "jokes" in its entirety:

"When my brother was in the third grade, his teacher told him that he needed to see a psychiatrist. My parents said, 'Uh uh, no way, we're movin'."

Musically, Sondra got down with her bad self by performing Janet Jackson's "Nasty", while wearing a fur coat onstage with a couple of male strippers, and Technotronic's "Pump Up The Jam", while wearing a fur coat on a Florida beach. (She also wore a baffling beaded something-or-other during this segment.) Sondra the balladeer made her presence known via "Memory" from "Cats" over the closing credits, as well as an original composition which I assume is titled "Just A Smile", although I prefer to refer to it by the much more cumbersome lyric, "A Smile Must Be The Most Extravagant Thing To View". Intercut with black-and-white footage of Sondra singing, we are shown numerous stills of Sondra, which suggests either that she's singing the song to herself or that Sondra is letting us know just how important she knows she is to us, because she's able to make us smile. (Hey, wait a second. Charlie Chaplin wrote a song called "Smile"! And why is Sondra shot in black-and-white during this song? Is it an homage because all of Chaplin's films were in black-and-white? These parallels are starting to get eerie. If only Sondra had stuck with silents.)

In the unfortunate tradition of "The Godfather", "Alien", the original "Star Wars" trilogy and the "Look Who's Talking" franchise, Episode Three of "My Show" is by far the weakest. It consists primarily of footage shot at a party where Sondra gave out "thank you" presents to the people who had helped her make "My Show" number two, including a twenty-five-dollar gift certificate for vitamins and a six-foot Blimpie submarine sandwich. (SPOILER ALERT: This is also essentially the plot of "Godfather 3".)

But the show did include a few new characters, including Nellie Pineapple, a husky-voiced broad with stained teeth who inherits a fruit market but dies from smoking, leading to the timeless Aesopian moral: "Sondra Prill Says: Don't Smoke If You Wanna Own A Fruit Stand". She also played Mario Muscleman, wearing a plastic chest complete with nipples which was meant to suggest that she was a weightlifter but, due to her completely unconvincing performance (including a high squeaky voice), it just looked like Sondra was flashing her audience.

The musical highlights of show three were a new video for the "Smile" song - breaking in yet another fur on the notoriously frigid streets of Tampa, Florida -- and Sondra's take on Bette Midler's "From A Distance". Around this time, Sondra also recorded a version of "The Star Spangled Banner" to be used when access channel 12 signed off. In the video, she stands before a chromakeyed American flag, hugging herself coquettishly as if she were singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President".

Sondra and "My Show" disappeared from Jones Intercable after the third installment, but Sondra made at least one more attempt to bring her talent to the masses. In 1992, Sondra and her mother/benefactress Regina rented the 900-seat Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center Playhouse Theatre to present "A Musical Fantasy", for which a portion of the proceeds were to be donated to victims of the recent Hurricane Andrew. I'll let Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Tribune fill in the rest:

"Ticket prices for her show ranged up to $50, a testimony to a rather intriguing assessment of her talents considering recent (and slightly better known) TBPAC performers such as Al Green and Patti LaBelle charged a maximum ticket price of $25.

"Of course Green and LaBelle lack Sultry Sondra's unique way of handling a melody - a cross between the dulcet sound of setting one's hair on fire and sticking one's hand into a garbage disposal.

"Friday night's show was not without its highlights. First, it started about 20 minutes late and in an inadvertent gaffe much to the delight of the audience, Sultry Sondra's microphone failed during one of her songs, which meant we were all spared from having to listen to her.

"Fortunately for the rest of the city, there weren't that many of us in the audience. Only 41 tickets were sold to Sultry Sondra, a commentary on the good sense of the populace. Of course they did miss that dramatic moment during the performance where Sultry Sondra had honey poured all over her for no particular reason. Say, That's Entertainment!

"Needless to say the victims of Hurricane Andrew won't be benefitting much from Friday's extravaganza of the banal. But then again, perhaps the folks down in Miami could send Sultry Sondra a few bucks - as professional courtesy from one disaster to another."


Here's hoping at least forty-TWO people get to hear her this time around.

- Eric Williams

So, now that you know the background, here are my two favorite Sondra videos (again, hit the pause button and let them load if they keep stopping):

"Addicted to Love"

This made me laugh out loud the other night. I mean, it's just SO bad.

"Nasty Boys"

And what can I even say about this? It's just... wrong. Although I'll
take the hot blonde guy with the muscle pants and feathered hair. Ohhh,
wait, which one?... hahahaha...

Finally, if you're just dying to see more (and really, I can't blame you), you can go here to see the whole terrible collection! It's also fun to read the poster's hilarious comments about each video...


Lovey H. said...

oh, i would die to see her sing Islands in the Stream. alas, no streaming video at work.

J. Christopher Arrison said...

Found your blog while trying to find out what happened to Miss Prill. Glad someone else appreciates her gift. She should resurface and collect the adulation she so ardently craved.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting these. She sings it way nastier than Janet and the circular pelvic moves of the guys were awesome...totally awesome!

jim g said...

You philistines are missing the point. La Prill was an amateur at marketing herself. She should have left it to pros who weren't her mom.
I wish I could find her so I could market her to deaf adolescents.Just hook up her videos with streaming CC and she could be the next Madonna in the hearing impaired world.
And considering the volume at which today's hearing kids play music, she could grow her audience every time somebody fired up the old I-pod with "Nasty boys" and kicked up the volume.
Personally, when I turn off the volume and watch her I think inappropriate thoughts. She's just soooo dreamy.
Jim G

Anonymous said...

Miss Sondra Prill in 2007 demanded that all videos of her show be taken down from youtube to respect her privacy. It's really sad, I guess now Sondra is living in solitude trying to pretend that the whole thing never happened...

Chickytava said...

Oh no!!!! My YouTube links don't work anymore! Those were the best videos EVER.

m said...

Not only are Ms. Prills videos being vociferously voided from vlog-land, her eponymous domain has this incongruous message: "This site has been taken down out of respect for privacy."

There is also a strange meme being passed around about her supposed murder some years back. I imagine that if one were to trace the source of the rumor, it would lead to either Ms. Prill or anyone credited in one of her productions.

Holestar said...

I desperately need to see the other videos!!!!!!

m said...

This person struck me as having that particular 'eau de Prill'.

Timothy said...

She, I think, falls in the category of comfort television. Not talented in the traditional sense, but for some reason I find myself cheering her on. I hope she wasn't murdered. I think she should attempt a comeback...perhaps become a horror-show host for some small television market. Maybe Laramie.

Mandy Sanders said...

Oh, ok, you think this is bad? Please,listen to this. I introduce you to the "greatest male voice on Earth", Mr. Airo Cordeiro. Please watch his videos.PLEASE. he he he

StevenX said...

Prill is classic. Thank God that her "Nasty" video is on YouTube again - the lyrics alone ("a bathtub of gentlemen only turns me off"?) are worth the price of admission. Which is free, thank you very much, although you're scarred for life if you see it. Sondra Prill isn't dead - you just wish she were.