Everyone Has the Flu: Will Karaoke Give Me a Disease?


  • 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 [email protected] or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.

Can karaoke make me sick? Should the host disinfect the mic between songs? -- Touch Me, I'm Sick

This is a timely question, as approximately 80 gajillion people in the United States currently have the flu. Naturally, you don't want to suck up other people's bad germs more than you have to, but some of you practically lick the mic like a ... er, nevermind... so you're constantly tempting fate, anyway. But would disinfecting the microphone between singers really help? I have my doubts, but I'm no medical genius. Christine Farris, a registered nurse at a local hospital, is, though. Here's what she told me:

I don't think it's appropriate to expect the karaoke host to disinfect the microphone between songs. What is expected is knowing that you shouldn't sing karaoke if you are sick. No one wants the germs or to hear your hacking bronchitis version of "Tainted Love" (No, it doesn't give you a "husky, sexy voice." It's just obnoxious, and it makes me want to shove a lozenge in your mouth). If the idea of singing after other people bothers you, bring your own sanitizing wipes, or perhaps just stay out of karaoke bars altogether. But karaoke by normal, healthy people, won't make you sick any more than other activities will -- unless you are intensely making out with the microphone. I would discourage that, even if you are singing a Prince song or trying to do your best impression of Trent Reznor from the "Closer" music video.

You know, I think that lady's kind of swell.

But there you go. Sing without fear, but also sing with consideration for your healthy friends. If you're sick, stay home. Period.

One time, I was waiting and waiting for my song to come up -- the only one I had submitted to the KJ. Before I knew it, it was the end of the night, and two drunk girls who had already been up multiple times were called up to sing the last song. I went up to the KJ and politely told her that I hadn't been called at all, and she apologized and kicked the girls off the stage so that I could sing my song. I was glad she did that, of course, but I have a feeling she let the other girls sing so much because they tipped her. How do you feel about bribery/tipping in karaoke? Is it tacky? -- Tipping the Lion

Are you sure you know what you saw? It's easy to make assumptions from your pub table, but there could be many reasons you weren't called up -- and not all of them are malicious. If your karaoke place uses paper submission slips, your request may have fallen off the KJ's table or out of her jar. If the bar uses an electronic submission method, there may have been a glitch that ate your request. The bar manager may have requested that certain people jump the request line. Perhaps your KJ wasn't paying close enough attention to the hour and didn't realize it was closing time until the drunk girls were already at the microphones. Or maybe the KJ thinks you're a jerk based upon your previous behavior (being demanding with the bar staff, pissing off your friends, etc.) and wanted to put your song off as long as possible.

Then again, maybe you're right -- those girls certainly may have been tipping the KJ. It happens, though not in every bar in every city. I don't agree or disagree with the notion of tipping KJs; tipping is a personal thing as well as a regional thing. People don't often tip KJs here in St. Louis, but it does happen. Sometimes customers tip to have their songs moved up in the queue, and sometimes they just want to show appreciation for a KJ who gives everyone a good time.

If the KJ slots singers based upon tipping, there are really only two things you can do:

1) Play the tipping game, fork $5 over to the KJ yourself and sing your song.

2) Realize that tipping is not something you personally approve of and accept that your song may take longer to come around. Or simply leave.

Just like with forest fire prevention, only you can decide which option is right for you.

From the way you described your karaoke weirdness, I'd imagine that your brushoff was an accident. Because the karaoke host apologized and instantly put you on the stage, she likely had just overlooked your song request. It happens. But no matter if it was an honest mistake or a pay-to-play situation, you did the right thing in talking to the KJ. Hosts really do try to get to as many singers as possible, even when they're accepting tips.

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.

Follow RFT Music on Twitter or Facebook. But go with Twitter. Facebook blows.


Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.