A number of bars in and around Houston have karaoke nights, a bunch of drunks belting out “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Pour Some Sugar on Me” while half the crowd annoyingly tunes out and the other half drunkenly sings along. There’s nothing wrong with this; a bunch of barflies butchering the hits of yesteryear can certainly be entertaining. Of course, there’s a vast difference between bars that host karaoke nights and official karaoke bars. As much was evident in my recent trip to Glitter Karaoke in Midtown.
While I had attended (and partaken in) a number of karaoke nights locally over the years, this marked my first official trip to a karaoke bar. The differences were evident from the start. Whereas karaoke nights typically feature a reluctant group of singers, afraid to be embarrassed in front of half-interested strangers, the karaoke-bar experience is quite different. For starters, the performers at karaoke bars are not reluctant; the line forms early, and it grows throughout the night. There are newbies (including myself, but we’ll get to that later), and there are regulars.
And the crowd? Well, they’re just as much fun as the performers. Tables of party people packed Glitter by 10 p.m. on a recent Friday evening. Many of them were there to perform, while others seemed perfectly content to cheer on those who did. And that’s what struck me the most about the karaoke-bar crowd. Not only were they attentive; they were also supportive.
For instance, when one particular fella — who resembled a drunken Judd Apatow — belted out an off-key rendition of Green Day’s “Longview,” the crowd didn’t appear to tune out or lose interest. Rather, they stood up and cheered in unison.
So the crowd is awesome, but what about the performers? Glitter was lined with folks who had certainly been to their share of karaoke bars. Like the one guy who came in alone, sang his share of songs (including a pretty solid version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”) and gave everyone a nice round of applause after their performance.
Or take Eric, for instance. Eric, who hails from California, travels for work quite a bit, including a recent stop in Houston. He travels alone and finds that karaoke bars tend to have the warmest, nicest people. Of course, Eric isn’t at Glitter on this particular night just for the camaraderie; he’s here to sing.
The key to being a successful karaoke singer? Eric minces no words.
“No shame,” he said. “These bars are built for people with no shame.”
No shame, indeed.
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Here are some observations and experiences – and a couple of tips – I gleaned from my first karaoke bar outing:
SONG CHOICE IS KEY
Look, Incubus’s “Pardon Me” is a fine track, and Alice in Chains’ “Man In the Box” is one of the best rock songs of its era. But these are not songs built for karaoke, nor are they songs built for those with voices not on par with Brandon Boyd and Layne Staley. Point being, pick a song that people know and want to sing along with. For instance, shout-out to the three ladies who brought the crowd to its feet with their cover of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man.” Props to the two fellas who tried to keep up with UGK’s verses on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin,” to minimal success. And kudos to the guy who absolutely killed Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.”
BUT IF YOU HAVE A VOICE, SHOW IT OFF
It’s no easy feat to pull off Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love,” which is why most people at karaoke bars probably shouldn’t try. So it was refreshing to see the young lady onstage who more than held her own. To put it succinctly, if you can sing, sing. If you can’t, find a track that will play to the crowd and go that direction.
YES, I PERFORMED ALSO
Even though I'm an avid karaoke fan, my original plan was not to take the stage on my trip to Glitter. After all, “don’t make yourself the story” is something that was preached to us during my journalism-school days. That said, once the energy of the performers and the crowd took over the room – and a couple of beers didn’t hurt – I had to put myself on the list. I went with an old favorite: Dr. Dre and Eminem’s “Forgot About Dre,” the perfect song for a child of the '90s who loves rap music and can’t sing a lick. “Where’s your partner?” joked a guy from the crowd. “You’re looking at him,” I replied. Three minutes later, breathless but exhilarated, I exited stage left. My night was complete. And it was everything I’d hoped it would be.
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