Esther Watrous –Anchor Staff
West Warwick resident Mary Halsey is known for her karaoke video that went viral in summer 2018. The video reached over seven million views in only two days. Fans of the video reached out to Ellen Degeneres, asking her to have Halsey on her show. Halsey became known as “Missy’s funky white sister,” after Missy Elliot tweeted a response to Halsey’s song choice, a 2002 hit called “Work It.”
The Anchor: When did you become interested in karaoke?
Mary Halsey: The first time I ever sang karaoke was probably in 1989 and I was at a local lesbian bar that’s no longer around, and I got up and I chose to sing “The Rose,” by Bette Midler. My knees were shaking, and I was so nervous, but as I looked around and saw all the love and support I was getting from everyone in that place. It was like I got a karaoke bug.
The Anchor: So what made you start singing fun songs like “Work It?”
Mary Halsey: It was probably 2003, and I was living in Pawtucket at the time and a young woman named, Susie B, was the karaoke DJ and she was having a contest. So I decided to sing “Work It.” The reason I did that song was because of the reaction I got, it was so positive. It touched people.
The Anchor: How did you react when Missy Elliot gave you a shoutout on Twitter for your video?
Mary Halsey: That’s funny, see, I did not have Twitter or Instagram at that point. I had just Facebook. A complete stranger sent me a message on messenger and said, “Yo Mary, Missy Saw you.” And I was like, Missy saw me? What does that mean? I went and I looked at my views on that video and it was up to a million. Literally within minutes I would go and look at the views and it would be 200,000 more.
The Anchor: What was it like meeting Ellen on her show? Was it how you imagined?
Mary Halsey: Well, I didn’t meet her until I walked onto the stage. As I walked out, everybody was in standing ovation and I put my arms out like I was on the cross. I felt my butterflies and nerves just drain through me. I looked over to Ellen and I smirked at her and she smirked at me and shook her head like she couldn’t believe it.
The Anchor: Did you talk to Missy Elliot after she sang on stage with you during the show?
Mary Halsey: Well, when I got back to the dressing room, someone knocked at the door and they said, “Missy would like to see you in her dressing room,” and I was like, I’ll be right there. I asked Missy if I could show her what I call “Magic Mary,” which is this thing that I’ve been doing since I was around 13, this therapeutic touch or blessing. I had no idea that she was actually filming it, and she posted the tweet of me giving her the blessing. That was cool as heck.
The Anchor: When did you start using the shofar? And how did it become an element of your karaoke?
Mary Halsey: In 2008 I started to attend a small Messianic congregation, which is Christians and Jews together. The shofar was an element of the worship and because I used to play the trumpet and the French horn, I’m very good at it. I use it to bless people and to bring people together in unity and oneness.
The Anchor: Viral videos often get lost within the fast pace of the internet. What would you like people to remember from watching you sing? In other words, how do you want your passion to ultimately affect your viewers?
Mary Halsey: I believe that what really touched people was, it made people laugh. It brought laughter into people’s world. It just seems like a silly little video. A lot of people are like, what the heck is the big deal about this song? But I don’t think it’s really the song. I think it was them seeing me just be me. The universality of the language of laughter is the thing I want people to unite around.