Romantic Misadventures and Song Selections for Karaoke Virgins

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ILLUSTRATION BY MIKE GORMAN
  • Illustration by Mike Gorman

Karaoke can be a dangerous endeavor. What can you sing that won't make friends shun you? How can you go balls-out during your next performance? Each week in "Ask a Karaoke Host," RFT Music writer and professional karaoke host Allison Babka answers your burning questions about maximizing your melodious mutterings and minimizing your friends' pain. Ask her stuff by emailing rftkaraoke@gmail.com or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.

See also: -Ask a Karaoke Host archives -Best Karaoke 2012: DD's Irish Pub & Karaoke

Is there an appropriate way to hit on your karaoke host? I've always assumed that bar staff are off-limits, since I wouldn't be comfortable with somebody hitting on me in my workplace. That said, I think the only way to attempt it would be to sing that Tommy Tutone song with changed lyrics: "You got it, you got it. You got my number on the wall. You got it, you got it. For a good time, for a good time call," and then you sing your phone number. Downside: Everyone gets your number. But I'm of the belief that you should always go big or go home. -- Get That Girl

You're right. Though singers hit on me nearly every week (usually after they've had a few drinks), I generally won't date the folks I meet while hosting karaoke. Admittedly, I've considered it. I mean, when a dreamy guy croons "Alison" while staring into my eyes or when he shuffles over, looks down and mumbles, "Um, will you go out with me, maybe, please?" in the cutest, most awkward method this side of a John Hughes movie, it's hard to keep my melty feelings in check. And I'm all about big movie moments! Pair the ask with an appropriate soundtrack, and there's almost no way I'll say no.

Almost.

As much as I love creative courtship, I have to force myself to remember that the karaoke bar is my office. I wouldn't date my coworker or client in a regular office setting, right? That way lies madness, along with awkwardness, resentment and low productivity. Besides, these guys usually don't want to date me; they just want the idea of me. Not to get all psychological on you, but as a cute girl who feeds egos and offers ear candy, I represent all the things a guy's current existence is missing. I guess I'm technically not much different from a Hooters girl in that regard, but I have smaller boobs and way better musical taste.

That said, your Tommy Tutone idea isn't terrible. I certainly would take notice, blush madly and try to hide my grin. But even if it were obvious that my hormones and your hormones wanted to tango, I'd still politely decline. That is, unless you stopped coming to my bar, I got fired or you brought a guitar when you asked me out. All bets are off, then. What's a good song for your first time at karaoke? -- Shiny and New

Ooooh, another karaoke virgin! What fun!

You'll want to pay particular attention to Nos. 2 and 3 on my list of tips for n00bs. Getting to know your vocal range and practicing your songs before you pop your karaoke cherry will be key to not bleeding. No one likes an inexperienced gusher, you know.

There are, of course, many songs that suit most people's voices while feeding the drunk audience's frenzy for fresh meat. To be successful and get crowd approval your first time out, I'd look into Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me," or (sigh) Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young." I recommend that last one hesitantly, only because I hear it nearly every week. Still, it gets the job done for a newbie.

You're flipping through the massive, laminated karaoke bible and discover that this book is truly a gift from the gods -- it has a whole column of Radiohead songs. You're longing to sing a nice round of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" instead of "Creep," but you're keenly aware that it's not the band's definitive anthem. What do you do? Go for the biggest hit, or hit it big with a surprising selection from Radiohead's repertoire? (Aside: Shouldn't the crowd be exposed to "Street Spirit" anyway?) -- Paranoid Android

First off, I love you for even asking this question -- and not just because I love Radiohead. The choice between performing a band's best-known song and an obscure one isn't easy for music nerds or karaoke opportunists. When a rare song appears in a tune book, karaoke nuts naturally want to perform it. After all, you might never see the title anywhere else or have the chance to sing it again. But how do you balance your supreme music cred with audience engagement and approval?

Easy: You do both songs.

Kick off your karaoke set by performing "Creep." Most people will enjoy one of the '90s definitive songs and your expert caterwauling when singing the "Run...run...run...ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuun" part. You'll need that acceptance when, after following that with two non-threatening crowd pleasers, you surprise folks with "Street Spirit." Sure, the audience may look at you a little slack-jawed, but they'll surely come away with an appreciation for Radiohead's lesser-known cuts as well as for your ballsy song choice. And if it doesn't pan out, just sing some damn Mellencamp during the next round to get the crowd back into your corner.

But seriously, you'll endear yourself to your karaoke host, who rarely gets to hear treats like "Street Spirit." Perform it well enough, and she may even break her "don't date the customers" rule for you.

As a Friday-night karaoke host at a South County bar, Allison Babka receives her share of drunken song dedications, occasionally makes people cry and even has been glorified by a singing psychic. She's considering adding "Call Me Maybe" to her personal karaoke repertoire, and she hates herself for it. Bug her with karaoke nonsense on Twitter at @ambabka, and use #rftkaraoke.


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