After-work diva: Let your hair down, sing your heart out
The magic happens on a small stage raised a few inches off the floor in the corner of the bar. As the current song comes to a close, your heart rate quickens because you know your turn is next. You make your way up to the podium, your fingers tightly grasping your cocktail for a little extra liquid courage during the upcoming instrumental breaks.
Lights flicker and flash as the tiny screen in front of you scrolls the words to the latest pop hit from Lady Gaga or soulful songstress Adele. For the next three or four minutes, it’s all about you. You’re the star, the bar patrons your adoring fans — at least by default.
You’re at a karaoke bar. The Japanese custom of karaoke continues to be popular here in the United States, and there’s no shortage of venues in the Kansas City area to try your talent. At any given karaoke bar, one thing is for sure: you’re bound to find an eclectic group of patrons and song genres due to the activity’s universal appeal.
“I think the appeal of karaoke is multi-faceted,” says Jason Biggerstaff, general manager for Ultimate DJ and Karaoke in Kansas City. “There is a great sense of gratification in being able to perform in front of a room full of people and receive their appreciation and adulation. This is a feeling that many of these folks would never receive in any other areas of their lives. When you do great things at work, people don’t generally cheer for you.”
At the end of a long workday, you’ll find the regulars as well as a crowd of new singers at Gators VII Bar & Grill, a Northland pub hosting karaoke on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. Karaoke jockey Chelle Groves Cooper says a “community feel, love of music and the spotlight” are what draws people.
“Music is a common thread that brings many different kinds of people together,” Cooper says. “The main appeal of karaoke is just to be up on the stage and for that few minutes be the center of attention, the star.”
And for an otherwise shy person, karaoke provides an outlet to break out of their proverbial shell. Regular karaoke singer Ashley Long, 25, has been singing her entire life hidden in the back of a choir but always felt too shy to sing solo.
“At first I wouldn’t sing unless I was with someone else. But one night I decided to try it on my own and I loved it,” Long says. “Now I’m a karaoke veteran and it’s one of my favorite things. Strangers will cheer for you and support you even if you’re not very good, as long as you’re having fun. It’s a great way to spend time with people and it’s a great stress reliever.”
Gators’ Wednesday show is dubbed “practice night” to take away the pressure of performing. For Cooper, making singers feel comfortable — no matter their level of talent — is the key to a successful night.
“I always try to make the people who come to my shows feel like they did a great job, and I’d like to think that’s why I rarely have somebody who only sings once in a night,” she says. “Obviously, there are very few Mariah Careys or Garth Brooks in my crowd at Gators, but I want people to feel good about the experience and at least be able to have a good laugh the next day when they think back on their performance.”
The Red Balloon is one of the more reliable karaoke spots in town, featuring a show every night of the week. The Johnson County bar has one of the largest songbooks in the area and makes for enjoyable singing and people watching. And Biggerstaff’s Ultimate DJ and Karaoke hosts shows all across the metro area, including downtown, the Plaza and Johnson County.
Take your pick of venues and try your hand at being a star for a night — or four minutes. But above all, remember the rules: don’t take yourself too seriously and applaud for every singer regardless of talent.
According to the U.S. Karaoke Alliance, the most popular karaoke songs are: “Picture” by Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock; “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood; “Summer Nights” from Grease; “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey; and “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles.