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The Song Remains The Same


It's 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tornado sirens blare throughout the city, yet Wade Wearmouth, with beer in hand, still warbles his version of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" in Daytona's All Sports Cafe. "I'm not afraid of weather," Wearmouth, 22, says between songs. "It's better than sitting at home on my couch. At least I'll be happy when (the tornado) hits."

Well, close to happy. Pure bliss for Wearmouth comes only when he belts out "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band, something the Daytona's karaoke DJ doesn't have on hand.

"But I talked to them about that," Wearmouth says with a nod. "He's going to take care of that problem."

Wearmouth, a maintenance worker for an Urbandale apartment complex, is part of a new generation of lounge singers. At least twice a week he stands in front of a crowd of strangers to croon a tune, even if he can't carry it.

He's got the karaoke bug. 

"If it wasn't for the bad singers, karaoke wouldn't be popular," says Rick Ludwig, owner of Showtime Entertainment, a local karaoke DJ business. "Karaoke is not for good singers. Good singers come out, but karaoke is all about having fun in front of people and making friends."

It wasn't always that way. 

Ten years ago, when karaoke first hit the central Iowa scene at Billy Joe's Pitcher Show, most folks didn't know what to think. They compared it to disco, called it a fad.

"Like color TVs . . . or computers . . . or VCRs," says Deanna Gilbert, the manager of Billy Joe's in West Des Moines, with a laugh. "Now it's the best free entertainment in town."

And how. What started at Billy Joe's as a gamble has become a staple to nightlife in Des Moines. Karaoke singers in need of a fix can find one every night of the week, at standard stops like Billy Joe's or family restaurants like Chi Chi's on Des Moines south side on Tuesday nights. (See page 18DB for our weekly listing of places that sent their info to us.)

"It's so addictive," says Ludwig, who actually began singing karaoke at Billy Joe's. Now his company emcees at least 20 shows a week.

"People will come out every night to different locations," he says. "I have people who drive from Oskaloosa to Boone -they'll drive two hours to come to a show."

Part of the draw is people's natural desire for the spotlight, Gilbert says. "Every night we have somebody that has not sang before, who wants to get up there and pretend they're some big mega-star."

Some singers get addicted to the adrenaline rush of getting on stage. 

"I didn't want to do it at first, but once I did, I wanted to try the same song over again until I mastered it." Ludwig says. "Then I wanted to do a new song. And then another, and another. Once you get karaoke in your system, you're hooked."

Now, it's even becoming a family affair. The new Fireside Grill, 523 Eighth St. in Altoona, offers "kids karaoke" from 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

"They'll be anywhere from ages 7 all the way up to 17," says Beckie Mathews, who helps run karaoke at Fireside. "It's so cute watching the kids. Their parents will get up and sing with them. It's really cool. They just love getting up there and singing."

No matter people's reasons for craving the stage, it's safe to say that karaoke isn't going anywhere. 

"There's a lot of people, if it wasn't for karaoke, they'd just stay at home alone," Ludwig says. "Some people do it because they like the reaction. Other people like to go get drunk and get up and make a fool of themselves. There are all kinds of reasons why people like to do karaoke.

"It gives people a way to get out, meet new people and feel good about themselves." 

Chances are if you go to a karaoke show, you're going to hear at least one of these often requested songs, according to our sources for this story.


"The Rose" by Bette Midler. 

"New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra. 

"Crazy" by Patsy Cline. 

"Summer Nights" by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, from the "Grease" soundtrack. 

"YMCA" by the Village People. 

Copyright 2000 Des Moines Register

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