Mike Rowe ‘My Way’ Rendition: Story Behind the Viral Karaoke Moment on QVC

by TK Sanders
(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Discovery)

Long before television personality Mike Rowe was crawling through sewers or narrating Alaskan King Crab adventures, the man with the unmistakable voice was selling unmemorable junk to the narcoleptic, late-night QVC crowd of the early 90s. Oozing charisma and dripping with a talk show host’s melodramatic magnetism, Rowe would go to any lengths to connect with the audience back then, even if it meant moonlighting as a baritone crooner to hawk a few karaoke machines after dark.

In his own words, Rowe said that in the wee hours of a summer night in 1990, he was tasked with introducing this new product, a novel karaoke machine, to his “unsuspecting” audience sometime after midnight. “To my knowledge, no retailer had previously made such a device available,” he wrote of the experience many years later. “Or done more with a single product to horrify the sensibilities of professional musicians around the world.”

A karaoke sales pitch becomes a grainy time capsule for a future phenomenon

Rowe’s pitch that evening would become the stuff of legend — two minutes of cringeworthy, yet altogether delicious performative salesmanship that would eventually (and perfectly) help construct the silly, grainy, absurdist foundation of the modern internet age. Plastic mic in hand, and visions of infamy in his sights, Mr.-Dirty-Jobs-himself Mike Rowe launched into a mesmerizing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s 1969 hit “My Way,” leading to a tender moment of spectacle so fraught with irony that now, 30+ years later, we can only laugh with joyful amazement.

“Those looking for proof that I sold out long before I started crawling through sewers can find it on YouTube,” Rowe recalled in his own words. “Why I agreed to participate in such a doomed and hapless project is proof positive that once upon a time, I really was a team player.”

But to fully appreciate the moment of perfect absurdism personified, you need to know how Mike Rowe came to sing “My Way” on national television; and what the opportunity meant for the young, ambitious star-in-the-making. It all began — as most good stories do — with a bet one evening in a bar.

According to Rowe, his friend Rick was working at the Mount Royal Tavern in Baltimore. Instead of having the football game on the TV, Rick was watching QVC, trying to prepare for an open audition he would attend the next day. A bit of back-and-forth banter later, Rick bet a young Mike $100 that he wouldn’t get a call back from the audition.

Rowe called the audition “absurd,” but QVC hired him on the spot as the overnight anchor.

Mike Rowe sang “My Way” long before he made a career doing things his own way

“I looked at the overnights as an opportunity to essentially do the late-night talk show I always wanted to do without permission,” Rowe told NPR in 2014. “So somewhere between the whole tension of not knowing what the next phone call would bring, trying to stay awake, knowing that the ice I was standing on was cracking under my feet constantly, was an opportunity to poke fun at every single product that landed in front of me.”

Rowe admitted that QVC fired (and rehired) him three times in the three years he worked for the pre-internet retailer; but he looks back fondly on the time spent on the job.

“QVC was absolutely my big break,” Rowe said. “My whole career was based on a bet. I’ll take credit for whatever I can get, but honestly, I got lucky. And I’ve been in TV ever since.”

Therefore, for Mike Rowe to un-ironically belt out a very decent, if not outright pleasant, version of “My Way,” a song dedicated to celebrating a life lived on one’s own terms, while shackled to one of the least coveted jobs in entertainment, is quite ironic, indeed. In a moment of foreshadowing, Rowe did a dirty job that evening; perhaps not one as dirty as some of his exploits on his hit show, but dirty nonetheless. And the best part? We know the future mega-host emerged on the other side victorious, smelling like a rose.

So here’s to you, Mike; you did what you had to do, and saw it through without exemption. Being a television host is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. May you continue to do it your way, their way, and every which way that works.