Collette McLafferty’s Ugly $10 Million WTF
If you would have told me a couple years ago that I would be taking on the legal system, mainstream media and ageism in the music industry… Well I would have asked you to please sell me some of that crack….
by Walter Price
I’m sure there are several life lessons to be learned from the saga multifaceted vocalist, actress, writer and all around genuine person Collette McLafferty has endured. Diligent with tastes of success and the bound to happen missteps along her travels but never showing too much of a negative side. She seems to have always persevered and moved on to whatever her next challenges have been.
Last year the edibleRed singer had her resolve tested when she was delivered a swift one-two WTF head blow of a lawsuit. A suit from a guy (Charles Bonfante) who is seeking $10 million bucks from the determined entertainer for being “Singer Sued for Being Too Old and Too Ugly for P!NK Tribute Band” (NY Post headline). But as the idiom goes You can’t keep a good woman down.
Here is part of Collette McLafferty story.
You’ve been branched out more than just music, when did you know you wanted to be an entertainer?
I was born entertaining! Apparently, my first word as a child was “pretty”. I was also looking into the mirror entertaining myself at a very young age. I guess since I amused myself so much, I just assumed I could amuse others. Apart from singing, I’ve also worked as a radio host, video producer and have dabbled in acting.
Was there a defining moment for you that help guide you into singing?
I was naturally a musical youth. Singing was like breathing oxygen. My mom said I would plunk out melodies on the piano when I was about three. I became serious about it as a career when I was 16. That’s when I started working professionally. I was a classical voice major at The Chicago Academy for the Arts. We were encouraged to work professionally while attending school. They had me performing all over Chicago’s landmarks. I booked my first paid singing gig at a hotel for a business conference at 8 AM. I had to get up at 5AM and travel 2 hours for the gig, it was in my blood. I was paid $75, which back in 1993 was pretty good money. $75 seems to be a running theme with me.
What is the story/history of edibleRED?
Oh wow, edibleRed has a LONG history. We formed back in late 1998 as a four piece. When we made our first demo, we were randomly selected to be on a TV show called a Makeover Story. It was literally a half hour show about us getting makeovers for our CD release party. What was supposed to be a simple demo to get us club gigs ended up getting us fans all over the country. We sold a decent amount of records back then.
When the first lineup members wanted to take a break, me and Tom Papadatos, the drummer and fellow co-founder wanted to keep it going without slowing down. Dave Eggar joined us as a sometimes member on cello. It completely changed the direction of the band. The second phase of the band resulted in a lot of session players… members that only lasted a gig or two etc. We had over 32 players over the course of 12 years. Sean McMechen was our core guitar player, with Marty Osterer and Janko Valdez rotating on bass.
By the time we got a record deal, got the record out we were pretty burnt out. On paper, we were our most successful with a nod from MTV Buzzworthy at the time of our breakup. We had some very cool moments in that band though… our “Hey Ya” video was on MTV’s Sucker Free alongside P. Diddy, Fat Joe and Paul Wall. We played for 15,000 people in Pittsburgh and even took a ride in the Cash Cab! We had a lot of Spinal Tap moments too though. At the moment, I sometimes use the edibleRed name to release stuff. Sometimes I use my own name. The band has been threatening to reunite. We’ve been talking about it for two years now.
Will you be recording under your own name from now on?
My intention at the moment is to record under Collette McLafferty as a solo artist, so I can still leave a space in my life for edibleRed to reunite as a band, even for a show or two. If some point, if that doesn’t happen, I might take over the edibleRed name again. We’ve been talking reunion for a couple years now. I just refuse to be the one to book the show!
Before we get into new music, how did this P!nk cover act come about.
I had seen the Craigslist Ad. It seemed up my alley so I applied for it. Later that night Rik the band leader messaged me to ask me if I would do the gig. I didn’t realize he had auditioned for edibleRed 7 years prior. He was a huge supporter of edibleRed. He told me he had shown Chuck (the man that sued me) my videos. Everyone seemed to be on board. A couple weeks later Rik called me to tell me that Chuck wanted to keep looking but I was still welcome to audition. No big deal. Happens in showbiz every day. I never heard from anyone regarding the audition. Months later I was offered it again, as I was told Chuck left the band. At first I declined, then accepted a short term offer as a hired gun. I was paid for every rehearsal and not a member of the band in anyway. Rik really wanted me to be the full time singer, but at this point I was juggling 5 bands. So at this point it was just a job. It was an enjoyable job, I loved the musicianship, but i wasn’t invested as a band member.
When and how did things go Twilight Zone?
Oi vey. I’m still in therapy about this. A couple months before our first gig, Chuck cc’d me on a couple of cease and desist letters for band names that Rik was using. I took very detailed records of this. It appeared as if Chuck would file for a trademark after Rik would announce a show. He did this with 2 band names. The cease and desist mentioned tax liens, frozen bank accounts, jail time and fines in the millions for performing under these names. There was apparently VERY bad blood between the two men. I decided to do one show then I started dropping mad hints about finding me a replacement. I didn’t want to leave the band in the dust but I knew something bad was coming. Two days before what would be my only show I was served with the 112 page complaint. I didn’t know how to handle this, as I had never been sued before. I happened to have an attorney that was working on a real estate deal. He agreed to look over the complaint. I was living In the midst of heavy construction; my landlord was going to pay me to move out. I was looking into becoming a home owner with the money. I was also going to build a home studio.
Because Chuck had sued me, my lawyer told me that moving forward with a buyout while in litigation was not a good idea. So I quit the band, signed a memorandum of law stating I was done with the P!NK Tribute Band. Rather than let me out of the case, which I had no business being a part of in the first place, my lawyer stated Chuck had told him I would “certainly hate” a second lawsuit if I thought being sued once was inconvenient. Rik was trashing Chuck on Facebook. My lawyer forwarded me an email that stated that it was because of Rik that I found myself in the unenviable position of being in Chuck’s crosshairs. I was further denied a filing extension.
What was initially going to be a motion to dismiss now got complicated. Because I had missed the filing extension, which my lawyer was not aware of, I was told I could be in the courts for years. At this point my legal fees were over $3200, I was being threatened with a second lawsuit and living in construction. I hadn’t slept in weeks. I was also losing my opportunity to become a home owner as well, thanks to a stranger dragging me into the court system.
I made the very hard decision to speak to the press, as my lawyer advised me to. He knew I had a long standing relationship with the media. If Chuck had actually researched me, he would have known that too. I’ve been working with the press for 20 years now. I went to the New York Post after speaking with a very high profile former executive at VH1, whom I greatly respected. I asked him advice for getting out of this. The objective was to get a quick blurb in the paper to get this guy off my back.
After hanging up with the VH1 exec, I called the New York Post. I had worked with them before during Occupy Wall Street and they did a beautiful job covering my involvement. I called requesting that same journalist. At this point, I was in a state of terror and panic. It was all so new and scary. I spoke to two journalists. They asked me extensive questions about the show, my musical background. One of the journalists told me I had a great voice and asked me about my MTV days. I made it clear that I felt Chuck didn’t know he was targeting a grown woman and a seasoned professional.
I was expecting the article to have an element of trash and tabloid sensationalism. The content of the 112 page complaint was rather trashy, in my opinion, so I didn’t expect them to make stuff up.
A photographer named Byron Smith came to my house to take photos. He wouldn’t let me see them, and now I know why. It was obvious they were taking a bad photo of me on purpose.
So I’m getting sued for $10,000,000, I am living in non-stop construction, my home owner dreams were squashed by a random stranger suing me…. All this is going I when I opened the paper to see “Singer Sued for Being Too Old and Too Ugly for P!NK Tribute Band”.
This goes viral WORLDWIDE. All the reports are making it sound like it was my terrible singing and my horrific looks that inspired the $10,000,000 lawsuit. He really did say very derogatory things… But the case is really about two grown men in their 50’s having a typical Long Island band fight.
My entire online reputation was completely destroyed. My business as a session singer thrived on my internet reputation. Before this lawsuit, my discography would come up… MTV, VH1, my European tours. It was obvious I was a pro. I would book a lot. After the lawsuit, it was “old and ugly”, “off key”. I was completely defamed. My new business booking plummeted by about 90%.
I couldn’t feel emotions for about 5 months. I later experienced tremendous PTSD. I’m over the worst of it, but going to be in therapy for a while!
How has the public and or friends been with you during the journey?
The public for the most part has been amazing. I have gotten a ton of support. People are outraged not only by the lawsuit itself, but the media’s decision to trash me. A lot of people are furious over this. I received mail from people all over the world. Many older musicians. A lot of women my age. We all agree that the respect for older musicians needs to be taken just as seriously as any other form of discrimination. Many women told me they may have committed suicide if this had happened to them. Several people who contacted me started asking really good questions. People have a vague idea that our legal system is messed up, but they don’t know why or how it got this way. They want answers. The public’s interest in the story has only intensified with time. Any time I go out, this is what people want to talk about. I also got support from a bunch of girls that almost auditioned for the project. They are so glad it’s not them in my shoes!
You seem to be trying to own or at least taking mental control of the ‘accusations’ now, will this perceived control show up in your new song writing?
At the moment I’m writing a book about the experience. For that reason, my songwriting is on the back burner. The songs I’m working on for 42 are all in progress. Once the first draft of the book is done, I have a feeling the songs will flow. I do have a song called “Erase Me” about the industries repeated unsuccessful attempts to erase my voice from the music industry. One of the psychics who predicted this lawsuit (yep!) mentioned this song after the fact. There are some old songs I might tweak to reflect the current times. So yes, it will definitely be in my new work, I just want to be careful to strike a balance between that and other topics…
Speaking of the book, you’ve mentioned in places the new album will come out on your birthday will the book come out at the same time and will the book be a broad work our just on the troubles you’ve had this past year?
I do hope to get the book out sometime in the next year. Making the decision to put out an album titled “42” was a huge turning point in my story from a spiritual standpoint. I’m hoping to have 42 chapters in the book. I have 36 so far… But no one really knows how the story ends yet, including me! There is definitely some kind of record coming out on my birthday. The book might be a little more up in the air though. The book is going to center around working through the four stages of trauma I dealt with as a result of being dragged into the legal system and globally defamed by the media. 1. Disassociation and shock 2. Repeating the story over and over again to process it. 3. The waves of PTSD that occur when the brain starts to process what happened 4. Making the decision to release and use the experience to better yourself and help others. It’s a rebirth of sorts. I’m finally in the fourth phase, although I do occasionally regress to stage 3. It will touch briefly on my past, but the core of the book is about the psychological journey I have been on the past year.
Have you ever thought of moving from NYC?
About every other year I make a huge announcement that I am leaving NYC and then I don’t leave! I was planning on relocating to Austin. I got a short sublet on a place in Bushwick and unexpectedly fell in love with it here. So I am going to kick it in Brooklyn for a while. After 21 years of mostly living in Manhattan, Bushwick feels like a move to the country! I do think at some point I should move though. There’s a whole big world out there outside of NYC.
What are the biggest misconceptions on this legal situation?
The biggest misconception about the legal situation is that this was something that could be dealt with quickly. People don’t realize a case could take years to resolve. They also don’t understand that it could easily happen to them. When I first got sued, I figured the judge would read the case and it would be dismissed right away… Wrong! The 112 page complaint has not been read by the courts and it’s been a year now. Also people don’t realize that one does not have to have a valid case to drag someone into the legal system. The courts are clogged with frivolous cases. While this harms a large group of society, it benefits a small group of legal professionals financially. The justice system, like our prison system is a business.
Another misconception is that frivolous lawsuits are wacky, hilarious and All American. Next time you read a “Legally Weird” column covering a frivolous case in a humorous way… Know that 1) The reporting is probably inaccurate 2) Someone is experiencing very real emotional and financial devastation while the papers are presenting it in a sensationalized way. One legal publication in New Zealand covered my case in a column called “The Lighter Side”. I had to roll my eyes at that… I get that the whole P!NK Tribute aspect of it is kind of humorous, but there is nothing “light” about this situation at all.
What should the world know about the person and performer Collette McLafferty?
What the world needs to know about Collette McLafferty is that she does not take any shit! If you would have told me a couple years ago that I would be taking on the legal system, mainstream media and ageism in the music industry… Well I would have asked you to please sell me some of that crack cocaine you are clearly smoking. I spent most of my 30’s lying about my age buying into the crap that “my window was closing”. It took getting age shamed and humiliated in front of the entire world to own it and realize my age in the music business is a strength, not a liability. I mean I just tattooed my current age on my right arm and put it in a music video! There is a fearlessness and an extreme “I simply don’t give a fuck” attitude that grew from this situation and I can only hope that it will translate into my work.
The fact that I survived all of this is a fucking miracle!
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