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 firstname.lastname@example.org or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.
When you try to sing "Shout at the Devil" by Motley Crue in the basement of Blueberry Hill but you suck and then accidentally punch out an overhead light, what's the most graceful way to exit the stage? -- Accidents Will Happen
I wish someone would have taken a photo of my WTF? face when I received this question. I'm absolutely certain it was priceless.
Actually, this is precisely the kind of question I wanted to get when I started this column five months ago. I KNEW that you people have experienced weird shit while crooning Def Leppard's greatest hits. But noooooo, you guys have written to me with normal questions about singing racial slurs, tipping the KJ and gaining confidence as a karaoke virgin. Don't get me wrong -- those have been important issues to address. But isn't it fun to talk about the crazytown stuff too?
Bad Day, I assume that your question comes from personal experience and isn't just a what-if situation. I'm really grateful that we can all wince over your spectacular public embarrassment together.
Honestly, awkward things happen on the karaoke stage all the time, and they contribute to people's fear of trying karaoke in the first place. Singers croak wrong notes, trip over microphone wires or fall down while grooving during an instrumental break. No one is immune to it, not even me. When stuff happens, you've got two choices: 1) recover and keep singing, or 2) smile, take a bow, leave the stage and get over it. Seriously, in 10 minutes, the audience won't give a hoot.
Busting a light at karaoke isn't a regular occurrence, though. I'm not sure how you did that, exactly, but I'd imagine that you were pretty humiliated afterwards. Shit happens, but it could always be worse, my friend.
Unfortunately, there's not a ton that you can do as you're standing among shards of glass while the the karaoke host seethes and audience stares at you, but here are some suggestions:
1. Make a joke. Diffuse the situation by telling the audience "Oops, I did it again." The Britney reference should net a chuckle and calm the room down a bit.
2. Apologize to the KJ. Your karaoke host may be in a bad mood or a bit defensive after your kerfluffle, but walking over and offering your sincere, private apology will go a long way.
3. Rectify the situation. You should make good with the KJ or the bar. Offer to pay for the damages or devise another solution that works for everyone.
No matter what kind of embarrassing situation you find yourself in, you can get through it with good humor, humility and sincerity.
Is there a fail-proof karaoke song for those of us whose voices make dogs howl? Maybe one that people sing along to and makes them forget that you suck? -- Voices Carry
Let's face it -- not everyone has the voice of an angel. Some folks are pitchy, some have no emotion and some are completely and utterly tone deaf. There's still a place for you in karaoke, though!
You can entertain the crowd without too much embarrassment by choosing a good singalong and fully owning your performance. Commit to it, bad voice and all, by belting out choruses and fist-pumping to your heart's content. If you're scared, try a few of these easy distractions.
As for songs, you're right to consider tunes that will energize the crowd into covering up your vocal weaknesses. In my experience, the following songs fit most vocal ranges and almost always jazz up an audience:
I have a tendency to pick oddball songs from the karaoke book. This often leaves my request near the back of the karaoke host's song pile. How can I get the KJ to be more willing to let me sing my unique selection? -- Difficult for Weirdos
As a KJ, I'm balancing a variety of tasks -- chatting up customers, slotting song requests, keeping an eye on the audience's mood, checking equipment, making sure the show flows smoothly and quickly, and being aware of potential troublemakers. All of this stuff contributes positively or negatively to the bar's cash flow, which is the whole reason that your favorite watering hole has karaoke in the first place (Happy people + beer = revenue. Bored people - beer = no revenue.).
While I certainly appreciate unconventional song choices (especially after hearing people sing "Rolling in the Deep" for the third time in a week), I have to balance your desire with the broader interests of the audience and the bar. Think about what happens at a concert: When the band plays a radio single, the audience roars. When they play a b-side, people grumble and head out for a smoke -- and when people are smoking outside, they're not drinking. The same thing happens at karaoke. I'm not saying I agree with this behavior, but I do have to consider it.
That's not to say that you can't sing your song -- far from it! I just have to slot it at a time when it makes the most sense and has the least negative impact on revenue. That might mean waiting until a string of pop ditties is over or when the crowd appears ready for something new. If your song is truly crazytown avant-garde, I'd talk to you about the audience's mood, speculate on what time it might be appropriate for you to do your song and ask if you'd like to perform a more well-known tune in the meantime. If you say yes, awesome. If you say no, we'll do your song and I'll deal with any minor consequences as best I can.
Try talking to your KJ when he or she is taking a video break or after the show, especially if you feel slighted. A compromise like the one above could appease your unorthodox heart and give your KJ a way to address the monetary issues without seeming like an ass. Remember: your KJ WANTS you to sing stuff that makes you happy. If you're happy, you'll keep drinking. If you keep drinking, you'll feed the bar more money. If you feed the bar more money, the KJ may see a piece of that action -- and that may be the only action the karaoke host sees that night.
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.