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Hooked On Karaoke


By day, she's Hollie Mendenhall, middle school music teacher and church choir director. By night, she's Hollie Mendenhall, torch singer. The daytime Shannon Horst works for an investment agency. The nighttime Shannon Horst is a smooth rapper, running through "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It."

And Greg Carey's co-workers at an area television station may not know it, but when the lights are low, he's a veritable Billy Joel.

All three are regulars at a local karaoke night. They take up a microphone to sing popular tunes to recorded background music, following the lyrics as they flash up on a television screen.

"To me, karaoke is kind of an outlet to get up and perform," says Carey, 28, a quiet-looking Harrisburg resident with a goatee, glasses and a killer voice. "I'm not much of an outgoing person, but when I get up there, it's like an alter ego. ... I'm an addict. There have been days when I'm like, "Gimme the mike. I want to wail and get it out of my system.'"

Karaoke is a popular mainstay at area bars, with many offering their customers at least one night a week to take the stage and perform.

Greg Dubetz is the disc jockey who oversees the karaoke night at McFly's Pub on Prince Street, where Mendenhall, Horst and Carey are among a crowd of regulars. It's not unusual for half a dozen people to have already filled out slips before Dubetz's 10 p.m. starting time, with titles of songs they hope to perform.

Kenny Rose runs Limelight Karaoke, which offers entertainment at several local bars, including the Watering Trough in Mount Joy, the White Swan in Rothsville and Talia's in Columbia. Rose says karaoke appeals to the Aretha Franklin or Ricky Martin inside everyone.

"People are like, "Oh I love this song. I sing this in my shower. I sing this in my car.' Now they have the opportunity to do it in front of other people," he says.

"I like the people that come out," Rose adds. "The stereotype is that you have to be a little bit of a ham. The fact of the matter is, they're regular people, just like you and me.

"We all have jobs. We all have families. We all go on vacation. We all do the same things. If you were driving down a suburban street looking at the people doing yardwork, those are the same people who go out once a month and you'll see in front of a microphone singing a Shania Twain song."

Hollie and Darin Mendenhall, of Lancaster, have been going to karaoke at McFly's for a year. She's a 22-year-old teacher at Edward Hand Middle School in Lancaster and also directs a children's choir at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Neffsville. He works as a 26-year- old store-support representative for Auntie Anne's Soft Pretzels.

She likes to do Gershwin tunes. He's partial to Bon Jovi songs. Sometimes they do a duet to Shania Twain's "From This Moment."

Both admit to some nervous moments but, like many karaoke regulars, say that once they get in front of a crowd, it's fun.

Says Horst, "People make more of it than it is. It looks a lot harder than it is. Once you get into singing, it's kind of like singing in the shower at home, except there's no shower curtain and you're not naked."

Horst, a Wernersville resident, is a 1995 graduate of Garden Spot High School, where he appeared in some school plays. He also played guitar in groups with friends, an experience he describes as "a bunch of guys hanging out in someone's basement."

A friendly guy with a ready smile, he looks completely comfortable on stage at McFly's, joking and going with it as three women in the crowd unexpectedly jump up on stage to be his background singers.

"I kind of like being the center of attention and having people looking at me," he says, grinning.Like Horst, other karaoke regulars have performing in their backgrounds. Some, like Keith Knowles, are even professional musicians.

Knowles, 26, of Strasburg, plays bass in the local band Jack Shift, in addition to working at the Music Den at Rockvale Square.

"We have support groups," he quips.

Many of the regulars know each other by first name. There's Murray, who brings his own harmonica to do Bob Dylan; Barry, who's known for his Joe Cocker and Louis Armstrong selections; and JP, called "a legend" by some for his Sinatra songs.

There's even a kind of etiquette within the karaoke fraternity. Like the first-come, first-served rule: If someone has a song they regularly like to perform and someone else submits a slip for it first, the second person concedes the song.

Knowles likes alternative rock and frequently does songs by Pearl Jam, Bush or Fuel. Like many regulars, he looks like a seasoned performer.

These folks gesture as they sing, closing their eyes during intense moments. They come down off the stage to work the crowd, walking among tables, stopping to sing to a friend.

Knowles waves off the suggestion that getting up to sing in front of a group of strangers is a shy person's nightmare.

"It seems to me there's people who take it way too seriously," Knowles says. "People come up to me and say, "Do you think I can do this song?' I'm always like, "It's karaoke, not an audition.'"

This is a good thing. Because not everyone who gets up on stage is a natural or even a good singer.

Some people stand rigidly, holding the microphone like it's a dead fish. Some warble off-key in an oddly determined fashion. Some, despite the monitor, can't seem to follow along with the words, or they just simply stop singing in mid-tune.

Others are mildly confounded when they discover that when they get on stage, the song they can sing so easily as they're zooming along Route 30 in their car all of sudden seems kind of, well, tough.

Joe Davies, 21, of Lancaster, grins after tripping over the words of "Ice Ice Baby," Vanilla Ice's convoluted rap, at McFly's.

"It's a song me and my friends know real well," he says, adding, "It was much more difficult than singing it outside my dorm at 2 a.m."

No biggie. No one boos or laughs. In fact, you rarely see anyone react as if anyone other than Garth Brooks himself is on stage, even during the worst performances.

It's part of that whole karaoke etiquette thing.

Horst listens as two guys sing an irregular-sounding duet.

"The greatest thing is that they're going to have as much opportunity as anyone else, and they're going to get as much applause," he says. And he's right.

Says Darin Mendenhall, "It takes so much courage to get up there. You win respect, in my book, if you get up there and do it."

Another part of karaoke's appeal: the unexpected moments that slip into each evening.

Hollie Mendenhall recalls a guy who said he was going to sing a Whitney Houston song. Everyone thought he was joking but, she says, "He was wonderful. He made us cry."

Rose says karaoke nights offer that kind of unscripted fun.

"Take the Barney song," he says. "People do sing that. It's usually a wife of a guy celebrating a milestone in his career. She puts in the slip for him and I'll say, "We're going to get John up and he's going to do something from Barney.' And he's like, "Yeah, right,' and five minutes later he's singing, "I love you, you love me ... '"

(Copyright 2000 Lancaster Newspapers)

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