Send For The Sandman! 9 Celebs Who Got Rejected Or Booed Off The Apollo Stage Before Making It Big

November 8, 2012  |  
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For anybody who ever tuned in to “Showtime At The Apollo” back in the day, you know brutal it can be for contestants to get booed off the stage. If you’re horrifically bad and don’t realize it, not only will the crowd let you know, but they’ll send the Sandman on you; the tap-dancing man thirsty for his own 15-20 seconds of notoriety during each airing. And while most people who get booed, denied a W and even kicked off the stage at the sound of the loudest horn go on to fade into obscurity, there have been a few celebrities who managed to get through the embarrassment and blow up big by cultivating their talents. Here’s nine comedians and singers who got the last laugh.


Anybody that watched Ne-Yo’s Vh1 “Behind The Music” probably knows about his time gracing the Apollo stage–and then ferociously being booed off. While participating in the competition with his boy band, Envy, Ne-Yo (rocking slicked down auburn hair–a travesty) and his boys dressed in black and sang the song, “Playas in the Hood” which Ne-Yo later sold to Donell Jones (which was changed to “In The Hood (Playas Version)”). While they had the look and the moves down, their voices sounded like dogs barking at the moon, and the audience took notice. Folks jumped up and booed like their lives depended on it. Luckily the boos weren’t so bad that they couldn’t complete their performance, but the minute they were finished, the audience proved to be finished with them. The best part of the whole video might be when Steve Harvey says, “From Las Vegas; Envy!” and someone answers, “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”


Luther Vandross

Hoping to have some solo success after being a big hit in local talent shows with his group, Shades of Jade, Vandross took his iconic voice at the age of 18 to the Apollo Theater. Unfortunately, the crowd could never get down with his silky smooth voice for some reason, and after five attempts, the “House Is Not A Home Singer” won amateur night 0 times. Maybe it was his song choices? Despite all that, he licked his wounds, sucked it up and continued on with his hopes of making it big in the music industry, and he eventually won those haters in the audience, and millions of other people over with his music.

Lauryn Hill

I’m sure we’ve all seen the sad video of our girl L Boogie at the mere age of 13 getting booed like she stole something on the Apollo stage. At first, Lauryn’s rendition of “Who’s Loving You” was met with a barrage of boos after she started off a bit too shaky for the impatient crowd. Soon enough though, she would pull it together, let her voice ring out over the boos and eventually receive applause, even getting a few standing ovations. She didn’t win the competition that night of course, but we know that she would win BIG with and without the Fugees years later.


Dave Chappelle

As a comedian, I’m sure it’s assumed that you’ll need to learn how to handle rejection, boos and hecklers early if you’re ever going to succeed, but I’m sure it always sucks when you walk into the world famous Apollo Theater amongst your people and they meet you with a resounding ‘HELL NO!” The comedian was just really getting his start and he claims he had never been booed by anyone before. According to Complex, his first time was something he would never forget:

I still remember that boo. I had never been booed off stage before. I just remember looking out and seeing everybody booing. Everybody! Even old people. Who boos a child pursuing his dreams? This is the meanest crowd in the world! Then that siren went off and the dude came out tap dancing. Sandman! I wanted to choke him! And that was the best thing that ever happened to me, because before that time, I had never bombed…after that, I was fearless.


James Brown

I know what you’re thinking: “Who in the hell boos the king!?” Why the fickle folks who make up the Apollo Theater, of course. Surprisingly enough though, Brown wasn’t booed because he couldn’t sing or was a terrible dancer (we all know that couldn’t have been the case), but because he was dressed very tackalicious. The venue’s ambassador, Billy Mitchell, who started working at the Apollo Theater as a young teenager waaaaay back when recounts the performance gone sour with Spinner:

…the first time he did Amateur Night he was booed. Not because of his performance. He was booed because the audience didn’t like the type of clothes he had on. This guy had just come up from Georgia. When he walked on the stage with those country garments, the crowd laid into him. The next week, James Brown borrowed a pair of pants and a shirt from one of our stagehands. He came back on with his New York shirt and pants, and he won the show.

Lyfe Jennings

Must beeeeeeee nice…to win amateur night. It wasn’t easy for singer Lyfe Jennings though, as the star, trying to do good with his life after spending 10 years in prison, was booed during his first performance on the Apollo stage. I actually viewed his performance with my own two eyes (on television that is) and I can tell you that his whole guitar and crooning schtick wasn’t received well at first, and in fact, folks were booing him before he even started performing (c’mon ya’ll…). But once he got going, the crowd couldn’t deny him his just dues, and neither could labels watching. Jennings went on to win five amateur nights in a row and soon after, inked a deal with Columbia Records.


Tracy Morgan

Morgan, like Chappelle, was another comedian just trying to get his start out in these streets, only to be met with enough boos to get him kicked off the stage. Luckily for the funny man, who is finishing up his final season on the show “30 Rock,” and even returned to the Apollo stage for his stand up show, Black and Blue, according to Locate TV, he says it made him ballsy:

That’s what gave me my balls,” he said during an early August session with TV critics at the networks’ annual summer “press tour.” “If you can survive getting booed at the Apollo, then everything else is a cinch. That’s the attitude I had when I went  to Saturday Night Live (from 1996 to 2003). I’m tough. I got booed at the Apollo.

Kathy Griffin

Kathy’s the only person on this list who tried her hand at performing at the Apollo Theater after she became popular, but that didn’t help her win with the crowd. At this point, I’m pretty sure comedienne Kathy Griffin likes controversy and side eyes, because she says a lot of crass things that bring her such a response. For instance, after being invited to perform at the Apollo Theater before amateur night, the actress, who brought cameras along for her reality show, “My Life On The D-List,” flopped. I guess in her state of nerves, Griffin made a joke about getting her lips done and them looking like the lips of your lady bits, as well as numerous references to the sweat dripping down her a** crack, and after a while, things got awkward. On the show, she was even reprimanded when she got off stage for a being a bit more foul mouthed than folks at the Apollo would have wanted, but hey, we’re talking about Kathy Griffin here. What did they expect?


Jamie Foxx

Before he was winning Academy Awards and starring in his own television shows, Jamie Foxx was just another young comedian trying to get some love (and money). In the same vein as Lyfe Jennings, Foxx got treated with a nice East Coast boo before he even got to pull out one joke. According to Eurweb, this is what Foxx had to say:

I’ve been booed at the Apollo,” says Jamie Foxx, the executive producer of “Apollo Live” along with Marcus King and Don Weiner.  “When I first went to New York as a young comedian and Sinbad brought me out, I think he kind of set me up, too, because he said, ‘We’ve got a West Coast comedian.’ Immediately they started booing before I even got on the stage.

But Foxx definitely gets the last laugh because he will be the executive producer behind “Apollo Live,” a revival of the show, which will hopefully air on the BET network. The program will be following in the exact footsteps of its original show, but with Tony Rock as host.


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