New Year's Eve Karaoke Hell: Surviving The Company Party


  • 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 or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.

See also: - Is Karaoke an Appropriate Response to a Tragedy? - Karaoke as Aphrodisiac? - Five Surefire Moves for Karaoke

My boss is throwing a New Year's Eve party that involves karaoke, and he's REALLY excited about it. I had planned on getting hammered at the local watering hole with my friends, but now I'm thinking I should go to the boss's thing if it'll get me onto the promotion track. But do I have to sing? -- I Ain't Sayin' She a Gold Digger

Ok, let's start off by talking about how wrong it is for your boss to invite you to a party on an actual holiday -- and a major drinkie-pie one, at that. Even if the bossman has the most innocent intentions, he's still subliminally saying that you're obligated to eschew friend and family time to even be considered for his "Employees Who Give a Shit" list. That's not cool, and I'd advise telling him to shove his crappy NYE invitation up his arse out of principle.

You don't sound like you're going to do that, though, so I'll share exactly how to survive the party and still earn brownie points: Go early, eat some cheese and cookies, sing one tune and get the hell out of there so you can still meet your friends and do body shots at midnight.

Seriously, forget the "fashionably late" bullshit and just walk into this wanker's shindig at 6 p.m. Don't have more than one drink, though -- you'll need to keep a level head to watch the clock. Instead, nosh on some starchy, fatty snacks so that you have a foundation to soak up all the alcohol you'll guzzle later. Besides, this asshole's paying for food that's probably better than dive bar pretzels, so you might as well chow down.

Should karaoke begin during your hour of brown-nosing time, you'll definitely want to participate if you know it will endear you to your boss. If you're a veteran, throw down some Journey and bask in the glory that's sure to come during your next performance review. If you're a n00b, you'll want to brush up on my virgin rules, make sure your one drink is powerful enough to give you a bit of courage, and go for a relatively easy, crowd-pleasing tune like "I Love Rock and Roll." After that, smuggle a few more cookies into your bag, thank your host with the biggest smile you can fake, and hurry off to a gathering where you can celebrate a ball drop while kissing multiple people without feeling guilty about it. Heh heh, "ball drop."

Does anyone ever bring props for karaoke? -- I Gotta Wear Shades

As I've mentioned before, my bar tends to have more singers than performers, so people don't often bring props with them (or feel comfortable stripping). I've had a few folks who thought they were real entertainers, though. One guy with a long beard pulled out some aviator shades and touched them each time he got to the chorus of ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses." A lady sawed a cardigan behind her back as she shook her coconuts, evoking Beverly D'Angelo's bathroom performance of "Big Spender" from National Lampoon's European Vacation. And many, many people hold their frosty beverages high when songs instruct them to do so.

I've been in karaoke bars where house props like cowboy hats, oversized glasses and capes are used by almost everyone, and I've considered bringing a trunk of such items to my weekly show. Ultimately, though, I think my crowd is a bit too low-key to make it worthwhile, plus I don't want to be responsible for disinfecting everything or worrying about replacing items as the drunks break them.

Why do men with neck tattoos insist on singing Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" every time I go out to karaoke? -- All the Same Old Cliches

Stereotypes exist, my friend -- and they're not just for skin color, national origin or religion. After professionally hosting karaoke for more than a year and a half, I've become a bit of a psychic thanks to karaoke tarot readings. Sometimes I'm wrong, but here are some examples of how things often shake out in the places I've hosted (your mileage may vary):

  • Two or more women, over age 35 - "Shoop," Salt-n-Pepa
  • Guy with a faux-hawk and faded Chucks, under age 40 - "Santeria," Sublime
  • Super-drunk lady with lots of eyeliner, over age 40 - "I Touch Myself," Divinyls
  • Old dude sitting at the bar alone, over age 50 - "My Way," Frank Sinatra
  • Boy-girl couple that doesn't know what to sing, under age 40 - "Picture," Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow
  • Bachelorette party, any age - "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," Cyndi Lauper

So really, your neck tattoo guy plays right into the stereotyping game. Granted, I'd probably peg the dude to do Metallica's "Unforgiven" instead of Seger's "Turn the Page," but it all amounts to loud, mood-killing ballads either way.

The best part about karaoke, though, is that stereotypes can be broken. I live for the nights when Rap Guy sings "Would?" by Alice in Chains, or when Visibly Sad Lady belts out "99 Problems" by Jay-Z. You want to earn the crowd's approval as well as the KJ's trust? Then surprise the shit out of everyone and stop playing it safe.

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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