IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Sued For $10,000,000 For "Not Being Attractive Enough"
Like thousands before me, I moved to NYC in 1994 on a Greyhound Bus in pursuit of THE DREAM, a record deal, and a mansion. After a decade of odd jobs and waitressing , I got signed and briefly appeared on MTV Buzzworthy. Like 99.9 percent of those who came before me, however, I never quite got the “big shot." While most eventually hang it up and move back home, I found a niche working as a tribute band singer.
Twenty years later, the industry repeatedly tells me my time has passed, but I’m still here. The singer’s life is the only life for me, so I have decided nobody gets to tell me that my window is closing. With over 1,000 shows under my belt, I still bring joy to the inebriated, nine-to-fivers who are working for the weekend.
At times, my wages rival that of a diner waitress. Other times, it’s absurdly lucrative. My life may sound like a punch line, but I love my work.
Not too long ago, I received an offer to sing in the P!NK tribute band by Rik, a bass player who had auditioned for my band 7 years prior. After an initial offer, I was told that Chuck, the drummer of said band, wanted to “keep looking," but I was “welcome to audition." I thanked Rik, not thinking much of it when the audition never materialized. Months later, I was informed Chuck had left the band. I was once again offered the job. At this point I was quite busy, so I accepted a position on a temporary basis.
Each Tuesday, I’d show up for rehearsal and sing the various hits from P!NK’s 6 studio albums. From the Led Zeppelin influences in “How Come Your Not Here” to the Sondheim like prose of “Truth About Love," my goal was to nail every inflection, lyric and note. I loved exploring a body of work that is sometimes unfairly dismissed as “pop fluff.” The material was challenging and the band, divine. Although I couldn’t commit to the project permanently, it was a great job.
I agreed to perform one show at Napper Tandy’s in Milford, NY on April 26th. At our final rehearsal, there was a potential understudy/replacement observing the show. She looked exactly like P!NK. I was excited to help bring this band to the next level and possibly transition to a new singer.
Cranking out the hits, I joked to the band “This is going way too smooth!"
As if on cue, a man entered the room with 3 very large stacks of paper. One for me, one for Rik and one for Jon, the guitarist. I stared at him, dumbfounded. It took a full 30 seconds to register that I’d been served.
Apparently, Chuck was not only a musician, but a personal injury attorney. He apparently also didn’t approve of Rik moving on with a new band. After rehearsal, I read the 112-page complaint and learned just how far from “perfect” I was in the eyes of Chuck. His extreme disdain for me was surreal and almost fanatical. The complaint told a story of “defendant McLafferty” a “struggling singer” from the Lower East Side who “tried, unsuccessfully to get a record deal” and would go to any lengths to secure the spot of the P!NK tribute gig.
He spoke of watching my videos on YouTube, being “appalled” and “immediately hating” my singing. Despite 13 allegations ranging from “Conspiracy for Fraud” and “Tortious Interference” the following stood out like a sore thumb:
“Defendant McLafferty was ‘too unattractive’ to front” this kind of band.
“Pink is a visually striking woman,” it read as it was further alleged that I didn’t “look the part or contribute to the overall aesthetics” of the group.
The damages sought were around $10,000,000 and the “legal fees” Chuck felt he was entitled to by defending himself. In addition, he sought to ban me from performing in any P!NK tribute band in perpetuity.
I immediately quit my job in the band.
My first month in the court system was hell. It involved a lot of day drinking, crying alone in my living room and awaiting phone calls from my lawyer. I came to hate the word “adjourned.” The violation of having a complete stranger pick me apart was daunting. I have a thick skin as a music business veteran, but this was a bit much.
A couple months later, the New York Post requested an interview regarding the case. I spoke freely, hoping my story would inspire others to seek legal reform in our system. Journalist Kevin Sheehan and a photographer, took photos and video of me singing “Try” from P!NK’s 2012 “Truth about love” album. I was excited that my story would be told.
Early that morning, I walked into my corner deli and opened the paper to page 3. My heart sank as I read the headline.
“SINGER SUED FOR BEING TOO OLD AND TOO UGLY FOR PINK TRIBUTE BAND”
I wanted to vanish and hoped no one would see that I was the ugly girl in question. Holding my own image in my hands, the picture was unflattering to say the least. I told myself repeatedly there was “no such thing as bad press.” At least my photo was next to P!NK’s. I figured a few people would read and comment and then it would blow over. After all, it was only one article.
My phone and Facebook flooded with responses. The story made the newswire worldwide. Time Magazine and Yahoo News reported that I was being sued for “not being sexy enough.” I was described as a “bad, ugly singer” by legal publications. This felt more shameful than the original allegations.
Websites everywhere dug up my old photos and performances. The internet debated if I was as indeed as awful as the allegations. Arguments ranged from “She’s beautiful leave her alone” to “She’s ratchet as hell” my personal favorite, “She certainly hold’s [sic] the record for world’s largest forehead.”
An outpouring of love and support ensued, which was a nice surprise. Ex-boyfriends, a first grade teacher, even former high school bullies dropped by my Facebook to voice their support. The Bob Rivers show in Seattle, WA requested an interview and played some of my long-forgotten tracks. CBS radio posted my MTV Buzzworthy video. For 3 days, I held a celebrity status that would soon be replaced by the “sexy mug shot” criminal and the student who got stuck in the giant vagina sculpture.
As the buzz died, I still had a lawsuit to deal with. I learned I had accrued over $3,200 in legal fees defending myself for the $75 show.
As my Internet celebrity subsided, the unexpected happened. For the first time in my life, I felt truly beautiful and strong. I had never felt so comfortable in my skin. I could literally feel myself glow from within, despite the never - descriptions of my “ugliness.” In the midst of insults hurled. I felt I was able to truly love myself again. In the face of a traumatic event, I was committed to standing up for myself. It was a new feeling.
I’ve been in the system of The Supreme Court of Riverhead since April 26th. I’m waiting to hear if a preliminary injunction will be granted. I will walk away a free woman with a $3,200 legal bill, or I will spend the next couple years defending myself. Either way, I am committed to seeking truth and justice. There will be no summer vacations this year, as I will be studying the legal system and working towards lawsuit reform.
One day, when this is over, I will get a Jeff Buckley lyric tattooed on my forearm “Feel no shame for what you are.” I feel no shame for my age, my status as a cover band singer who never “made it.” I feel no shame for my looks or my voice. I hope I can be a part of the cultural shift that is redefining beauty. The saying “A true lady never tells her age” in my book is behind the times. “A true lady shouts her age from the rooftops” is more like it.
I am a 40-year-old professional cover band singer, songwriter and artist. I am not a punch line.