The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson introduced America to the late-night talk show format in 1962. Carson became an icon and went on to host the show for 29 seasons. Some of the most beloved recurring bits included “Stump the Band,” “the Mighty Carson Art Players,” and every dog lover’s favorite, the annual Singing Dog Contest.
On December 31, 1987, during the year’s final show, Carson welcomed six pups and their owners to compete for the honor of top singing dog. The audience chose the winner based on which pooch received the most applause.
First up was 14-month-old Mona from Whittier, California. Miss Mona was a gorgeous, shiny-coated Miniature Dachshund who tossed back her head and howled at her dad’s prompting. In addition to her piercing soprano voice, Mona also rocked a pierced ear complete with a sparkly diamond stud earring.
Next, Reuben, a Boxer from Dallas, Texas, took the stage with his mom, a professional singer in her own right. 6-year-old Reuban sang in a soft, low tenor to accompany his mom’s sweet soprano. However, he didn’t seem too eager to perform, sneezing irritably between “verses.”
The third canine crooner was four-year-old Alaskan Malamute, Kona, who had been singing since she was just six months old. Unlike the first two dogs who began their vocalizations when their owners howled or sang, Kona’s performance was inspired by applause. Shy at first, Kona only began “singing” when the audience joined the band in their clapping.
My personal favorite, Raisin the Beagle mix, was the newest competitor with only one year of singing experience under her collar. She gave a lovely performance singing in tandem with her handler to Till There Was You from The Music Man.
A Sheltie named Aladdin was contestant number five. He gave a soulful performance, warbling along to his owner’s harmonica.
Last but certainly not least, a burly Basset Hound named Columbo took the stage in the arms of his father. Unfortunately, performance jitters got the best of this portly pup. Instead of singing, he sat silently staring at the audience as his dad played a jaunty tune on the piano.
The winner was determined using Carson’s Applause-o-meter. All the pups received hearty cheers from the crowd, including shy guy Columbo. However, the top prize went to Aladdin, who received a trophy and a blue ribbon. Second place went to Raisin, followed by Mona in third. But Carson made sure that all the dogs went home with prizes for their brave participation.
Enjoy this classic clip of all six canine crooners!
Carson must have had a soft spot for dogs. In addition to hosting the adorable yearly sing-off, he became emotional while listening to a poem by iconic film actor Jimmy Stewart in July of 1981. The poem, entitled “I’ll Never Forget a Dog Named Beau,” ends with the heartwrenching verse:
And there are nights when I think I feel that stare
And I reach out my hand to stroke his hair,
But he’s not there.
Oh, how I wish that wasn’t so,
I’ll always love a dog named Beau.
Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the studio—including Carson’s.