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In the Spotlight

Spotlight Karaoke sets standard for do-it-yourself singing spots.

For 12 years, Spotlight Karaoke has operated without interruption in its Galleria-area strip center, sandwiched between a rotating lineup of cafes, medical specialists and whatnot. Yet despite being a large venue that holds around 250 people, the club has never had to rely on any type of advertising to fill itself.

That's not a load of cocky propaganda. Affable owner Charles Chang did mention it, but nothing he says could ever be accurately described as bragging. Spotlight simply doesn't need it.

Over the course of its lifetime, Chang's bar has acquired a sparkling reputation that guarantees a full house on weekends. Hoping to reserve one of the five private rooms for your birthday party this year? No problem, as long as you were born in April or later.

Singing Journey or not, Spotlight Karaoke's crowds don't stop believin'.
Larami Culbertson
Singing Journey or not, Spotlight Karaoke's crowds don't stop believin'.

"We book for parties about a month in advance, sometimes two," says manager Frank Antia, who goes by his middle name, Tony. "There's a bar minimum you gotta reach to reserve a room, but most of the time the parties end up going three or four times past it. You can stay in there as long as you want."

Spotlight's crowd is mostly young, though not entirely, and mostly energetic (definitely entirely), and almost always of mixed race and age. The only obvious commonality is that everyone shows up with the intention of having a good, unfiltered time.

Person A gets up, does Song A, and everyone cheers. Person B gets up, does song B, and everyone cheers. Person C gets up, does Song C, adds a little dance and the place explodes. That pattern continues through the alphabet a few times over the course of an evening.

"It's pretty much a party place," says James Thomas, a 31-year-old business owner. "You tend to see large groups of people up there that know they can't sing. They just act a fool and have a good time. It's entertaining as long as it's a short song."

"When I'm onstage, I'm just happy," says Ashley Bailey, 27, capturing what seems to be the most prevalent reason people enjoy singing karaoke. "I don't get to sing too often. I just wanted to sing tonight. I've been singing since I was three."

Like Jay-Z in the "Who's the Greatest Rapper of All Time?" debate, Spotlight's name is always brought up in the "Which Houston Karaoke Bar Is the Best?" discussion, but there is no universal answer.

Located minutes away from Spotlight, Genji (7964 Westheimer) is usually mentioned as well. It's a little rougher around the edges in appearance, and certainly feels a bit more unpolished overall, but the final product is solid. To extend the Jay-Z analogy, Genji would be Notorious B.I.G. and Westheimer would be New York. It all fits together very nicely, actually.

Regardless of where you place it on the totem pole, Spotlight is one of Houston's very best, most popular karaoke hangouts. Big pimpin' indeed.
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LAST CALL

This didn't quite fit into the flow of the article, but one of the previous tenants in the space that houses Spotlight Karaoke was legendary live-music venue Cardi's. Bands like Bon Jovi, Pantera and Metallica all played there, which is ironic because songs by all of those bands are available for you to butcher at Spotlight. Also, there are lots of romantic Valentine's things going on this weekend, but in lieu of that nonsense, we recommend you partake in Gritsy, the roving dubstep party that stomps into Groundhall (1515 Pease) this weekend. You're guaranteed to see at least one 20-year-old absolutely lose his shit in the pounding bass, which is way more interesting than Russell Stover chocolates and a half-inflated Mylar balloon from Kroger.

 
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