How Do I Take Care of My Suave Karaoke Voice?


  • 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.

Sometimes my throat hurts the day after karaoke. Should I be warming up before my karaoke night begins? How do I take care of my voice? -- Sing Loud, Sing Proud

I think there's a huge benefit to warming up before an energetic karaoke performance. I've noticed that my own voice improves dramatically when I deliberately hum and sing for 20 minutes before the show, compared to when I simply wing it. I usually don't experience lingering throat pain, either. Just like with exercise, stretching those vocal muscles helps immensely.

But don't take my word for it. Instead, listen to Andy Shadburne, one of St. Louis' best high-energy frontmen. Whether he's preparing to lead Via Dove through some vigorous rock-and-roll or impersonating Mick Jagger with the Rolling Stones tribute group Street Fighting Band, Shadburne swears by building voice stamina through daily singing and warmups. He's also got some advice for your big karaoke night:

1. Stay hydrated: Shadburne drinks plenty of water throughout the day and has some hot tea before showtime to relax the vocal chords (He recommends Throat Coat, which "tastes like licorice and works really well."). Keep the water flowing when you get to the karaoke bar, as well.

2. Don't oversing: Reaching for the high notes or screaming lyrics will cause you pain. "I don't recommend anyone go out and try to sing like Brian Johnson from AC/DC if you don't naturally sing like that or haven't practiced for it," Shadburne says. "Two songs and you'll be hoarse the next day and probably the day after!"

3. Limit alcohol and soda: Shadburne has one or two drinks on the stage and follows those up with more water. "I think it's a good idea to limit alcohol and soda consumption when singing," Shadburne says. "It can dehydrate you, encourage mucus to form and cause numbness, which may keep you from realizing when you're singing with too much force."

4. Warm down: On your way home, sing some gentle low-note tunes to help your vocal chords switch from "performance" mode to "normal" mode. "I also take two or three 200mg tablets of ibuprofen to help with the swelling from singing that hard for that long," Shadburne says. Shadburne also recommends having another cup of hot tea before bed.

What's up with that Killer Karaoke show? Can you really sing through that crap? -- I Want My MTV

Almost every friend and relative has asked me about Killer Karaoke since the show debuted on TruTV a few weeks ago. In case you don't know, Killer Karaoke forces contestants to sing through bizarre -- and sometimes painful -- stunts while former Jackasser and current annoying guy Steve-O laughs at his own fart jokes because he's the host with the mic. Winners from three rounds move on to a championship stunt, vying for up to $10,000.

I enjoyed Killer Karaoke at first. There's something jovially sadistic about watching a person sing '80s pop while they're lowered into a tank full of watersnakes or attacked in the junk by hungry dogs.

I think I'm over it, though. First, this isn't even karaoke -- there are no lyrics posted anywhere, and what comes out of the contestants' mouths while they're being tortured can only be called "singing" if you put quotation marks around the word. Second, the stunts are repetitive if you watch the show for more than two weeks. Third, endgame is dumb. Sing while standing on a merry-go-round? Seriously? THAT'S the craziest stunt the producers could come up with to give away $10,000?

But honestly? I'd probably do Killer Karaoke if I were near the studio and someone double-dog-dared me. Every karaoke host craves the spotlight -- even if it means wearing a shock collar while performing "I Think We're Alone Now."

Is there any way to sing Atlantic Starr's "Secret Lovers" with a friend's wife without making her husband look like a cuckold? -- Dirty Little Secret

Are you insane? I don't care if you and the lady have been best friends since you first made mud pies together in 1979, there's no way you guys can sing "Secret Lovers" without raising an eyebrow or two. Might you sing the song well? Yes. Might your looking playfully into each others' eyes as you croon be amusing to the audience? Might her husband and your own partner laugh it off as entertainment? Yes. But they'll wonder. They'll alllllllllll wonder. And as much as I love a good performance, I can't condone putting doubts into lovers' heads.

Stay away from "Secret Lovers," "Don't You Want Me?" and "Picture." If you insist on singing together, might I suggest *gulp* something from the Disney catalog?

As an in-demand karaoke host at multiple bars and events, 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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