Entertainment

‘Dennis is the man’: A 72-year-old is a karaoke night star

Dennis Foreback walked up to the mic and the cellphones came out.

College students snapped pictures and video as Foreback, 72, belted out "Bodies," a heavy metal song by Drowning Pool.

Foreback is not as mobile as he once was, but he hammed it up by bending his knees during the long notes.

Chants of "Dennis! Dennis! Dennis!" rang out from the crowd.

Behind the microphone at Crunchy's, a beer and burger joint near Michigan State University's campus, Foreback might be mistaken for a geriatric rock star.

In conversation, he is self-effacing.

"If I'm being honest, I like the attention," Foreback said from his perch in a dimly-lit booth. "I'm appreciated quite a bit because of my age, you know. I think I'm not a bad singer."

Foreback began singing karaoke at Lansing bars in the 1990s.

After spending time in the hospital due to complications from Type 2 diabetes, his voice was scratchy from disuse. Karaoke gave him an opportunity to reinvigorate his vocal cords.

Nearly a decade ago, Foreback drifted away from the other bars and became a regular at Crunchy's where he sings every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.

"Crunchy's is my favorite because of the enthusiasm of the students, the cheering and the applause and so forth," Foreback told the Lansing State Journal . "It gives me a little feeling of being an entertainer."

The Lansing native graduated from Eastern High School, but never went to university. Crunchy's offers a taste of the college experience.

For some students, it's a badge of honor to post a selfie with Foreback to social media.

"Dennis is the man, honestly," said Chris Hagan, a 20-something regular at Crunchy's. "His repertoire, just the range of what he sings, is wild."

Foreback is partial to Frank Sinatra, but he branches out with rap songs like Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina." The Lansing native dislikes "foul language" and skips over profanity in songs.

"I have to admit I don't care for some of the songs that they put out for this generation," Foreback said. "Because of the words."

But he's careful not to sound critical.

"I guess each generation is different," Foreback said. "We all have our different types of songs that we like, which is good."

Judging by the dozens of high-fives he collects each night, millennials and Gen Zers adore Foreback.

"He brings a smile to everyone's face," MSU student Hannah Dunstan said. "I hope that's what I'm like when I'm older."

Ricardo "Rico" Cooney, a longtime Crunchy's DJ, teases Foreback about the young women who request duets. For those occasions, Dennis often selects "Summer Nights" from the musical Grease.

"I don't do duets with fellas," Foreback said. "I will do duets with ladies."

When he's not singing karaoke, Foreback leads a quiet life in an East Lansing retirement home.

"I spend most of my time in my apartment," he said. "I don't get out much other than karaoke."

Foreback watches the Crunchy's sand volleyball league on Wednesdays. His preferred topics of conversation are the Detroit Tigers, his grown children and his grandchildren.

Foreback grew up on a farm near Lake Lansing Road, before the area became built-up with strip malls and a Meijer grocery store.

He married a church-going woman, who introduced him to performing through the choir at their Baptist congregation. Before he retired, Foreback worked in retail, mostly for Sears.

Years ago, Foreback and his son-in-law tried starting their own karaoke business, but Foreback's hands trembled too much to work the machine.

"I like performing more," Foreback said. "I used to be pretty shy. If you want to try karaoke, go for it. It's the one chance to let your light shine through."

Foreback's politeness makes him a favorite among the Crunchy's staff. Employees there have sent him to Tigers games in Detroit.

"He's one of the best types of customers," bartender Ellen Leonard said. "He tips really well."

Foreback doesn't drink alcohol due to his diabetes. He likes to order a diet soda with a burger or BLT sandwich.

Fans walked up to Foreback at the bar Thursday and asked what songs he planned to sing. He refused to divulge the surprise.

"Sometimes, it's like, man, let the man eat," Cooney said. "Dennis is a local treasure. I'm just waiting for him to go viral."

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com

An AP Member Exchange by the Lansing State Journal.

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