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Tulsa State Fair: Mark Calderon revisits Color Me Badd's career before performance

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Remember this 1990s pop culture collision?

On April 23, 1992, the Oklahoma City-based music group Color Me Badd guest-starred and performed on an episode of “Beverly Hills, 90201.”

“It’s so funny because some of the producers there on the set were working,” Mark Calderon of Color Me Badd said. “And they told us ‘We have never seen all these (actresses’) boyfriends show up for one taping before.’ They all had their boyfriends there, or their boyfriends all showed up. I don’t know why, but it was funny to the people working on the set because they were like, wow, we had no idea all their boyfriends were going to show up today.”

Best guess on the “why:” They didn’t want to risk losing their gals to the fellas singing a capella.

Color Me Badd was on top of the world when the “90201” opportunity arrived. The group’s 1991 debut album featured two No. 1 singles (“I Adore Mi Amor,” “All 4 Love”) and a song (“I Wanna Sex You Up”) that reached No. 2.

Calderon said being on “90201” (also at the peak of its popularity) was a great experience.

“But none of us really watched ‘90210’ because we were so busy on the road working. I never watched ‘Seinfeld.’ I never watched ‘Friends.’ I never watched ‘90210’ because we were so busy doing what we were doing, so we didn’t have time to watch those TV shows.”

Has he played television catch-up in decades since?

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I think ‘Seinfeld’ is great. I’m watching it for the first time and I can’t stop watching it.”

Then: 90201. Now: 74114.

The latter is the zip code for Expo Square. Color Me Badd will perform Saturday, Oct. 1 on the Oklahoma Stage at the Tulsa State Fair. The Ohio Players, best known for two mid-70s No. 1 singles (“Fire,” “Love Rollercoaster“), will be part of an Oklahoma Stage double feature that night.

“I have such respect for them,” Calderon said. “They are one of the great funky bands from the 70s and 80s. They are the ones who started all that stuff with ‘Fire’ and all that. They have a lot of great songs and were very influential. We have all the respect in the world for them and we are honored to be sharing the stage with them.”

Calderon is an original member of Color Me Badd (inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2000) and he continues to export the group’s material around the world. Calderon had just returned from Color Me Badd performances in the UK when he took part in a phone interview to talk about the pending Tulsa State Fair gig.

“It’s always great to play in our home state, Oklahoma,” Calderon said, adding that he has many great memories of Tulsa.

“My dad used to take me to Tulsa Roughnecks soccer games, where I got to see the New York Cosmos and Giorgio Chinaglia play as a kid. That was like everything to me. We always visited Tulsa for whatever reason. It’s a beautiful city and we always have a great time. I was there not too long ago for a wedding reception and we had a great time. I’m just honored to be back in Tulsa and a lot of my friends and family from Oklahoma City are going to be driving up to see the show. I love it. I’m excited.”

It was a different city — New Jack City — that put Color Me Badd on the map. The soundtrack to the 1991 film “New Jack City” reached No. 2 on the Billboard album chart and the biggest song on it was Color Me Badd’s contribution, “I Wanna Sex You Up.”

“They weren’t even planning to release our song as a single,” Calderon said. “People were going to the movie theater and hearing the song in the movie and calling the radio stations — back then you could do that — to request Color Me Badd’s ‘I Want to Sex You Up.’ That’s what they did and that’s how it got started.”

Intrigued, Giant Records asked Color Me Badd to hustle up a debut album. Calderon said they had about two weeks to make a record: “We went to Westlake Studios and it was crazy because we knew that was where Michael Jackson recorded some of the album ‘Thriller.’ It was an iconic place and we were able to write a lot of songs there and record them and get the album done. As soon as we finished that, we were able to turn it in and they put that sucker right out. It was real quick. They saw the momentum (of ‘I Wanna Sex You Up’) and they didn’t want to lose the momentum.”

Videos for “I Adore Mi Amor“ and “All 4 Love“ were shot in the same week to promote the triple-platinum album, titled “C.M.B.” Color Me Badd received a Grammy nomination for best new artist.

Were Calderon and others in the “hip hop doo wop” group prepared for sudden fame? No.

“We knew what we wanted, but we didn’t know it was going to hit us like a brick,” he said. “It was a roller coaster ride. We had never been overseas before. We must have gone to England at least six times within nine months. ... We would get to the states and do our rounds here in the states, do our shows, and we were always in and out of LA, and we were back and forth in the UK. That was a trip, but we were moving and we were young and could do that.”

In demand, Color Me Badd was invited to be the musical guest on an Oct. 5, 1991, episode of “Saturday Night Live” hosted by Jeff Daniels. Among SNL cast members: Dana Carvey, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Victoria Jackson, Mike Myers, Kevin Nealon, Chris Rock, David Spade, Adam Sandler, Tim Meadows and Julia Sweeney.

“Everyone was so nice and so friendly and they all made us laugh,” Calderon said. “They would all go into character when we would run into them. Like Dana Carvey, he would go into his Johnny Carson character. It was hilarious, but it was great to see those guys off camera just being funny.”

A few months later, Color Me Badd helped change Super Bowl halftime show history.

Color Me Badd didn’t perform at the 1992 Super Bowl, but the group sang “I Wanna Sex You Up” on a special episode of “In Living Color” that was crafted to steal viewers away from the Super Bowl broadcast.

FOX encouraged viewers to switch away from CBS’ Super Bowl halftime show (a “winter magic”-themed event with figures skaters and singer Gloria Estefan) and instead tune in to “In Living Color.”

The counter-programming tactic proved successful. Almost 29 million people watched “In Living Color” that night, according to Nielsen. Because the Super Bowl lost viewers, the ante was immediately raised. Michael Jackson was hired to be the next Super Bowl performer and halftime shows haven’t been the same since.

It has been 30 years since Color Me Badd’s appearances on “90210” and “In Living Color.” Calderon is still doing what he loves.

“Man, this is the gift behind it all,” he said. “I get to do this and it is so gratifying to see the people still come out, have fun, sing the songs, scream, act like they are teenagers again and have that same old feeling they have always had. To make people happy is the greatest thing in the world. If you can do that, if you have something you can give to people to make them feel a little younger, man, it’s why we do it.”


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Scene Writer

I cover pop culture and work as a feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, I have written books about former OU coach Barry Switzer and former OSU coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389

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