Upstate Man Shares Video Of Him Winning the 1976 NBC “Gong Show”
I am "Big Chuck" D'Imperio and this is my story and I am sticking to it!
After almost 50 years of waiting, my dream has finally come true! A video has surfaced!
In the beginning......
I was living in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s trying to become a singer. During the day I was the maître'd at the downtown Biltmore Hotel. At night, you could find me attending showcases and talent shows and watching other performers at any of the myriad of nightclubs in the city of LA. Needless to say, my singing career was going nowhere.
And then, in the fall of 1976, the NBC television show. "Chuck Barris' The Gong Show" appeared on my horizon.
It started with a small ad in a LA newspaper calling for "performers of all types to audition for a Ted Mack Amateur Hour-style variety show." Since I had plenty of time on my hands, and very little money, I figured this would be a lark. So I went and auditioned.
At the audition, I met Chuck Barris, the man who created the Gong Show. He liked me. I was a giant (6'5") and he was very short, so we bantered back and forth about our Laurel and Hardy size differences. I sang a song, said goodbye and left. I would guess that 200 performers auditioned that day.
A week later I got a call at the Biltmore. It was from Chuck Barris himself! He told me he liked me, my personality, etc. In any case he offered me a spot on the Gong Show but under one condition. If I came up with a gimmick. I hesitated, because I really wanted to just sing straight with the show's band, led by Milton DeLugg. Barris said to me, it would be weeks before I could sing straight on the show, but with a gimmick I could be on the following Friday. I agreed. That night, at my LA apartment, my friends and I brainstormed on a gimmick for the show. It was suggested that since I always sang in the shower, that would be a natural for me. Plus, two years earlier I had actually won a singing in the shower contest in Rutland, Vermont. So, I called Barris the next day, told him my thoughts, and he loved it all. "See you Friday," he said.
The die had been cast. My "fame clock" began to tick.
Friday I showed up at the NBC studio. They taped five shows that one day. For my episode they brought a free-standing shower stall up from the NBC men's room. My act was to get in it (buck naked) and sing "Bad, Bad, LeRoy Brown." I did.
I won. The studio audience went wild as I was singing. The judges got up and came over to my shower stall and started dancing around it. I won with a perfect score of 30. Ten points each from Arte Johnson (Laugh-In), Jamie Farr (M+A+S+H), and Gong Show regular singer Jaye P. Morgan. (Jaye P. Morgan said she didn't really care for my singing but that she gave me a ten for what she saw in the shower.) I blushed....
It was a hoot and the clock continued ticking on my "15 minutes of fame."
Fast forward three months. Due to the runaway success of the daytime Gong Show, a nighttime edition was scheduled for Prime Time. I got a call from Barris and he invited me on the nighttime show. He told me that there would be no winners, and no new acts on the show, but all previous winners from the daytime show would be invited to perform. On November, 29, 1977 I appeared on the new nighttime edition of the Gong Show, again, naked in a shower hollering out "Bad Bad LeRoy Brown" at the top of my lungs. Another smash success. My three judges on this show (as you will see in the video) were Arte Johnson (again), Lucie Arnaz, and film critic Rex Reed.
And my "fame clock" continued to tick.
Fast forward through the decades. My singing career ended up in the dustbin of showbiz history, but I have enjoyed telling my Gong Show story over and over and ad infinitum. Unfortunately, there never was a video of either show. Remember, this was 1976-77 long before DVRs, and fancy recording stuff. I did end up with seven great photos of me on my winning show, taken by my Aunt Mary in Brooklyn, NY. They are clear and wonderful (posted below). And I have my trophy. But the check I got for winning, $516.32, is long gone, as are the 100 rolls of ChapSticks, two Mr. Coffee Machines, and 100 boxes of elbow macaroni. "Advertising parting gifts" they called them.
Fast forward 25 years. I am now well entrenched in what would be a 33 year award-winning radio career in Central New York. I have also authored nearly a dozen Upstate New York travel guides and books. In 2002 the phone rings in my broadcasting studio. It was a publicist from Miramax publishing company asking if I would be interested in doing an author interview (I had done dozens over the years). I said yes, who was it? They said the book title was "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," by author Chuck Barris.
My heart stopped. The "fame clock" started ticking again, louder. I said put him through....
I welcomed Chuck Barris to my radio show and knew that my audience (which had long known about me being on the Gong Show) would be waiting for me to bring it up.
Barris was fun to talk to and he really hyped his book, and an upcoming movie based on it. Finally, I couldn't stand it any more. So (live on the air), I told him my Gong Show story and asked him if he remembered me? "Oh, my God," he yelled. "You were the Shower Singer?" I remember you like it was yesterday. I remember bringing that old shower stall up from the basement and I remember thinking that the whole thing, with the water and everything, might not even work! You were great, one of my all time favorites," he told me. I imagined my big radio audience howling at the conversation.
Now, fast forward 17 years to 2019. Cue the tick-tick-tick.......
I got a call (again in the studio) from an author named Adam Nedeff in Los Angeles. He is a Hollywood writer who was researching a definitive book about Barris (who died in 2017), and the "Gong Show." He asked if I was in fact the Chuck D'Imperio who was the Gong Show's "Shower Singer?" I said yes. He said, "Man am I glad I found you."
Adam and I did an extensive interview with me filling him in on my experience as much as I could remember. It was kind of exhausting, but a fun interview. Remember, I was on the Gong Show when I was 28 years old. On my next birthday I will be 75. Memories are quickly disappearing, so it was great to get this story of a chapter in my life down pat once and for all before it disappears in my mind.
Adam was a great guy, a super-professional. He thanked me and promised to get back to me when the book came out.
Four years later, in fact one week ago in 2023, I got an email from Adam saying the book was published! Honestly, I had forgotten about the whole thing. I got the book and it was great fun to read (I read it all through in one night). He gave me 4 pages in the book telling my story as well as a photo of me in the shower on my show. It is awesome. The book is titled "Gong This Book: The Uncensored History of Television's Wildest Talent Show!" If you are a Baby Boomer you will really enjoy it.
And then the thunderbolt. Adam told me he had a video of me on the nighttime Gong Show episode!! I had always been under the impression that no videos of either of my shows existed. And now this! Me, in the shower singing "Bad Bad LeRoy Brown" for all the world to see. The air date was November 29, 1977. With the evening host Gary Owens, and my judges for that show Arte Johnson, Lucie Arnaz, and film critic Rex Reed. He asked me if I wanted to see it.
The emotions I went through when viewing it are almost indescribable. I mean, nobody had ever seen it before. Not my late parents, my siblings, my wife, my now grown children, my grandchildren, my hundreds of friends down the years from all over the country, and not my thousands of radio listeners who listened to me during a 33 year radio career. Not even me. As I watched my young self in the shower, on stage having a blast I was a little wistful. So young. No money. Living in LA. Living my life to the fullest. Roads ahead. Dreams to fill. People to meet. Places to go. Thin and healthy. And oh, my, that beautiful head of hair!
So thank you for your time. To see the video CLICK HERE. The video can also be viewed in the gallery below. I am pleased to finally, perhaps for the last time, tell my Gong Show story to its fullest. 48 years from first seeing that little ad in an LA newspaper. What a ride.
Enjoy the photos below.
I am now going to shut off my clock.....
Upstate Man Who Won The Gong Show (1976) Shares Memories, Photos, and Videos!
Gallery Credit: Chuck D'Imperio
Betcha' Didn't Know This! 17 Upstate New York Inventions We Are Very Thankful For!
Gallery Credit: Chuck D'Imperio