When the robots inevitably become sentient, walking about with our day jobs, tossing back cold motor oil at the bar after a long shift, will they sing for each other? Will they plug in an old jukebox, croon Sinatra on a Saturday night and wonder why humanity ever felt so blue? I sure hope so, but for now, all we have is ourselves and our karaoke machines to entertain one another with the magic of song.
But it’s no easy feat to take the stage and sing. The word “karaoke” has Japanese origins, “oke” meaning orchestra and “kara” meaning empty or void, and really there’s no better way to describe it — alone, mic in hand, staring into the abyss, the abyss staring back. From the sidelines, the confident karaoke performer is bewildering. Poised yet goofy. Heartwarming. They have the chutzpah to risk meme-levels of shame, and when they succeed, they inspire. For the first-timer looking to enter the limelight, here are a few tips to help soften the nerves.
Choose the Right Song
This seems obvious enough, but flipping through the song selection book can prove equal parts confusing and frustrating. Why, for example, would a jockey keep every deep cut from Chumbawamba’s discography without including a single Beach Boys hit? You can spend all night searching for the right tune, so it’s not a bad idea to come to the table with a couple songs in mind.
There are some who might suggest reading the room to determine whether a crowd is more Carrie Underwood or Sir Mix-A-Lot. I disagree. A good audience can smell a brown-noser from a mile away, so steer clear of pandering.
There’s an x-factor in choosing a song that’ll truly wow. Classics are fun, but sometimes stale. On the other hand, if you pick something too left-field, everyone will just tune out. Tap deep into your pop culture subconscious to unearth a gem — a song you forgot existed but are delighted to remember. Genderbending can produce great results too. I recently watched a gal do Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff and she was an off-the-rails dynamo, delivering a performance to rival Mr. Chocolate Starfish himself.
Know the Words
Try to consider the karaoke screen a last resort, not a teleprompter. Swaying to and fro, eyes glued to the lyrics is about as engaging as a piece of seaweed blowing in the wind. It’s important to love a song to truly inhabit it. I thought I knew Tears for Fears a lot better than I did until I mumbled through the bridge of Everybody Wants to Rule the World, sputtering like a balloon running out of air.
So take a moment to run through the lyrics in your head or look them up quick on your phone, because I know I’d rather face the guillotine than another few seconds of silence while forgetting words mid-song.
Have a Shot
Teetotallers beware. Without proper lubrication, karaoke can feel a lot like a bad dream. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but you should feel loose before taking the stage, right in that sweet spot where your brain feels like it’s bathing in a hot tub.
Keep an eye on your position in the queue, and once you hear your name on deck, it’s time. A healthy pour of Rumple Minze usually does the trick. At a higher proof, it dulls the inhibitions with a minty fresh sensation. That said, exercise caution — there’s a fine line between liquid courage and slurring your way through Celine Dion in front of a bunch of strangers.
Like any good cover, it’s not so much how well you replicate a song, but more what original spin you bring to it. Theatrics and flair go a long way when there’s a tough note you can’t reach. No one can out-Janis Ms. Joplin, but I once saw a guy sing Take Another Little Piece of My Heart like Donald Duck and I will never forget it.
Also, if you find yourself lost wondering what to do during a 36-measure musical break, people will always appreciate a little jig.
Take a Bow
It’s not easy work belting out Don’t Stop Believin’, but the world will be a better place if you do.
Where to Find a Mic
Karaoke abounds in West Michigan. Here’s a (not-at-all definitive) list of sing-along nights around town, but be sure to call first, as these schedules can change anytime.
Fulton St. Pub
5 Lakes Brewing
Fulton St. Pub
JD Reardon’s Bar & Grill
The Web Bar
Lake Michigan Sports Bar
Last Chance Tavern