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Thursday, December 3, 2009

So you wanna rock the mic?

In honor of our fast-approaching Karaoke Gala, and because I’ve been promising this for a long time and I don’t want you to take my promises in vain… I present to you:


+  STEP 1: Do not give a f***. Attitude is the most important thing. If you have a crazy hat or scarf or some other costume element, wear it. The crazier the better. People will love it. Seriously, this trumps singing ability any day. You can be a great singer and bomb at karaoke by having no presence. You can be a terrible singer but rock out by being flamboyant. Presence is way more important than hitting the right notes.

 +  STEP 2: Pick a song you know backwards and forwards and love with all your heart. And if you’re not feeling super confident in the voice department, pick an easy one. There is a reason someone always sings a Neil Diamond song, and it’s because his songs are very easy. Same goes for Phil Collins, Nancy Sinatra and Jimmy Buffett (but please don’t sing something by Jimmy Buffett). You’ll be fine if you pick something you sing along to on the radio or in the shower. Don’t think about it too much, just pick something. And word to the wise: be careful of Pink Floyd, Mariah Carey and Tina Turner. You want to avoid long guitar solos and diva wailing (unless you’re well-prepared, crazy or drunk). And showtunes... I don't know, I'm on the fence about showtunes. Once Jonathan and Erin did an amazing duet of that "Will you light my candle" song from Rent which was all the more amazing because Jonathan had never heard it before. So who am I to say.

 +  STEP 3: Read the crowd. If you’re in a country bar, this might not be the time to bust out the Prince. Are there a lot of old drunks at the bar? They might appreciate some Hank Williams (or they might kick your ass if you don't do it justice... but never mind that). Do you find yourself surrounded by drunk frat boys? Dear god, this is not the time to sing Tori Amos (or maybe it is… I am a fan of the “throw down and walk out the door” technique, myself).

 +  STEP 4: Whatever you pick, sing it with gusto – but not so much gusto that your voice cracks. Keep a tiny bit of yourself pulled back so you can hear your voice and how it sounds.

 +  STEP 5: Work in some moves – turn your back on the audience then whip back around, lay down on the floor with arms outstretched. Again, it’s not precision that counts here, it’s guts and enthusiasm. Which is why people get drunk. Though be careful – this could also get you thrown out. Once my friend was singing “Dr. Feelgood” and he ripped open a bunch of sugar packets and shook them everywhere then tried to body surf on a table. The crowd loved it, but the KJ cut him off and we had to leave.

 +  STEP 6: Don’t repeat a song that you rocked out the last time you were out. You will likely have a diminished effect. And come on, it's cheating. In my opinion, if you don’t bomb half of the time, you’re not taking enough risks. Speaking of which...

 +  STEP 7: What to do if you bomb. Here’s what I say: bomb big. If you realize in the first 3 notes that you don’t actually know this song, sing it loud and sing it proud. Ask the crowd to help you out. Stop singing altogether and launch into a ridiculous dance routine. Go into the crowd and give the mic to the person who is singing along the loudest. Sing horribly, gleefully off-tune. Or you can always try speak-shouting with passion, that works sometimes.

 Things to remember: some of the worst karaoke experiences I have had involved songs I thought I knew backwards and forwards. Some of the best I’ve had are with songs I was totally unsure about going in (or didn’t know at all). Either way it’s done after three minutes and the crowd doesn’t care that much.

And a story to bring this all together: once I was at my favorite karaoke bar – Chopsticks III, the How Can Be lounge – and this girl was celebrating a birthday with a huge party of friends, with a huge birthday cake sitting untouched on the table. A man walked in, and when his name was called he put a chair on the dance floor and proceeded to do a seriously bizarre version of “A Little Less Conversation, A Lot More Action.” He started out sitting in the chair, whispering the song, and he ended up flailing around the room, screaming the song at the top of his lungs. When he was done, he put down the mic, walked directly to the birthday girl’s table, grabbed the cake and walked out the door. Five minutes later the bartender asked if anyone knew who that guy was, because he’d smashed the cake on someone’s car and driven off.

I’ll tell you what… that guy may have been genuinely crazy and he ruined that poor girl’s cake, but that was a memorable effing karaoke experience. So if you can work a prop cake into your routine, I say do it.

See you tomorrow night!