The first week of January 2017, I was on the Carnival cruise ship Valor with 18 of my family members and my boyfriend John. We were sailing from Galveston, Texas, stopping at Isla Roatan, Honduras, Belize City, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico, with 3 whole days at sea along the way. All of us gathered to celebrate my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary. When I think of cruises, I think of elaborate meals, buffets, someone always in your way when walking, and malleable stage performances.
I’ve done this before – cruises. This was my fifth actually. I love them. The encouraged excess, the ability to wake up to new places and adventures, the sun and warmth. The endless blue of the ocean, stretching in every direction from 12+ stories in the air, is something that will always take my breath away. And the ability to travel with large groups at lower costs than if you were all in hotels, that doesn’t hurt either. The thing I don’t really consider when going on a cruise though, is the live entertainment. It’s been, in the past, something to pass the time. A nice way to relax after a large meal but not yet go to sleep. Although, some lucky people get to go on cruises with the likes of Demi Lovato, Jay Leno, and Tim McGraw, I have yet to choose a cruise with performers in mind.
Shows on the Valor included a troupe of dancers and singers, two times during the week. The singers were the typical lounge style performers (a guy and girl pair you’d never wanna buy a record from), and the dancers were enthusiastic and attractive, even when the song choices were confusing (one night's theme was movie scores of the 80s, and included a pitchy rendition of “Endless Love,” and an overly-dramatic version of “Purple Rain” with a rotating motorcycle on stage). I will say, the singers sure kept trying. Then there was the cruise director-hosted marriage game show – one I purposely missed. There was also a juggler-comedian that relied heavily on slapstick badumcha one-liners, the kind where he would pause for laughter, and most of which mocked his own Chinese immigrant history – a topic very hit or miss with the crowd. There’s making yourself the butt of jokes for others amusement, and then there’s making fun of yourself so relentlessly, you feel like the entertainer needed a hug. He crossed between the two throughout his performance, yet the juggling itself was very impressive – especially when he juggled a machete, ax, and dagger above an audience member brought on stage. The jokes, however, left me constantly grappling with thoughts like, this feels like internalized racism, is it racist because he’s Chinese?, maybe it’s not racist, nope this feels/sounds racist again. It was a night of confused and uncomfortable laughter from me, especially when the majority White crowd around me roared.
One night onboard, the performance surprised me in a good way. I remember, the air tasted of old cigarettes – filtering in from the nearby casino, sunscreen not yet washed off from daytime island drinking and lounging, and that smell that cloth furniture gets once it’s absorbed enough BO and salt water, stale and clammy. The lights were turned down low, I couldn’t see how full the venue was, yet the waiters, still discerning, shuffled through the crowded aisles, carrying empty cans and novelty light-up drink cups on trays. I was in the multi-level theater, balcony right, laying my head on my boyfriends should, and about to listen to one of the best soul singers I’ve heard – live – in my life, Consuela Ivy.
According to Ivy’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, some of the few traces online I could find of her, Ivy studied music at Columbia College Chicago, and has worked for Carnival and Holland America Cruise lines as a performer and producer for over 6 years. Her song choices were pretty well known chart-toppers: Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” Aretha’s “Respect,” and Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia.” They were songs you’ve heard a hundred times before. But each note she belted or softly carried, seemed to come with little effort. She made them feel like her own – a talent few performers actually posses. While talking to the audience, she would ask if people knew any songs and she would easily share a verse or two acapella. Yet it was her final performance of the oft-melodramatic Whitney Houston anthem,”I Will Always Love You,” that cemented her in my memory (yes I know the original is from Dolly Parton). Normally, you hear someone is going to sing that song, and you immediately feel bad for them. You get ready to cringe. But Ivy’s voice, bravado, and range proved she could come close to the master. I mean, no one beats Whitney, but Ivy came damn close.
Consuela Ivy was an impressive surprise, and someone that reminded me of the power of live performance. She made all the mediocre acts that week palatable, and at the same time put them to shame even further. It was a joy to hear someone that isn’t a chart-topping megastar, command a room with talent. The music left the theater feeling less stale, the pungent smells faded. The small stage felt alive, powerful, and radiant. And if you don’t believe me, check out some of her performances on YouTube, including “I Will Always Love You,” here, and listen for yourself.