By Jim Beckerman
are one of the few occasions when the average person sings in public.
In the karaoke
world, where everyone sings all the time, the ante had to be upped.
That's why Sarah Savoye of Hackensack, who is celebrating her
birthday at the Monday karaoke night at the Old Time Sizzlin' Steak
House, is nervous.
"Happy Birthday to You" in this place. No, Sarah is going
to have to sing a song chosen on the spot from Disc 25 (because it's
her 25th birthday) and selected at random by the audience. Kamikaze
karaoke, it's called.
In the audience,
people begin shouting track numbers. "13!" "17!"
She's in luck. It
turns out to be No. 12, "Theme From Love Story." Gamely,
Sarah takes the microphone, watches the lyrics as they appear line by
line on a big TV screen, and begins to warble.
"Where do I
begin, to tell the story of how great a love can be ..."
The crowd at the
Hackensack eatery cheers, whistles, and encourages her -- even
joining in at times.
"She fills my
heart ..." they sing in giddy chorus.
Ready or not, here
comes karaoke -- again.
subculture of amateur entertainers, who add their voices onto other
people's hits with the aid of expensive sound systems, had been
waning a bit, says John H. Corby, manager of The Karaoke Store and
More in Elmwood Park.
Now it's back, and
how. "It was extremely popular six or seven years ago, then it
went down a little bit, and now it's had a resurgence," Corby says.
It's even become
the subject of a big-budget Hollywood movie, "Duets,"
starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Huey Lewis, and Andre Braugher, which
"I think it
will give the karaoke scene a bit of a boost, " says Sue Fox of
Hackensack, who hosted the Monday night show, produced by Sing Sing
Karaoke, the service arm of the Karaoke Store.
['Duets'] might prompt people to go to a karaoke show and check it
out," Fox says.
For rock star
Lewis, "Duets" was an eye-opener.
His own music is
popular in karaoke circles: The Sing Sing songbook lists 10 Huey
Lewis and the News songs among its 5,000 titles, including "Heart
of Rock 'n' Roll," "This is IT," and "The Power
Yet Lewis himself
never explored this musical underground until he was tapped to play
the character of Ricky Dean, the karaoke hustler who suckers people
into betting against him and then blows them away at the microphone.
"I sort of
pooh-poohed karaoke for a long time," says Lewis, who did a
little field research by going into a karaoke bar in Vancouver, where
"Duets" was shot.
What he saw
knocked him for a loop. "I was amazed," he said. "It
had more to do with singing than making a record. When you make a
record you can do it line by line, and sweeten it with effects. But
in karaoke, you only have one shot at it. You can really tell in a
karaoke bar who can sing and who can't. It would be interesting to
see the top 20 singers sing in a karaoke bar."
Contrary to the
stereotype of the no-talent ham croaking "Three Times a
Lady" in the wrong key, most of the people who sing karaoke in
the thousands of bars, restaurants, and clubs across the nation are
pretty good at it.
Some are very,
Which is no
surprise, given the amount of time they put in. Hard-core karaoke
fiends sometimes do it five or six nights a week, following their
favorite "KJ's" -- Karaoke deejays that is -- around a
whole circuit of clubs.
Many practice at
home on their own karaoke systems -- an increasingly popular item,
according to Corby.
years, I've done karaoke at least once a week, sometimes twice,"
says Tom Evans of Paterson. "I go to six or seven clubs in North
Jersey. I guess that's my biggest kick, to karoake sing when I go out."
Karaoke buffs are
drawn not only by the love of singing, but by the atmosphere of the
karaoke nights. More than one Monday night regular at Sizzlin'
Steakhouse described the club as their "Cheers."
you sing, you have a good time," says Joey Pedulla of
Wallington, who was doing a bit of Beach Boys harmonizing with Dave
Goetz and Dave Fiduccia, both of Lodi. The Little Italy Boys, they
the same crowd," Pedulla says. "There are people who are
bad, but nobody boos anybody."
Legend has it that
karaoke was born around 1980, when a resourceful Japanese bar owner,
faced with a no-show guitarist, played tapes of instrumental music --
to which the bar patrons began to sing along. The term itself comes
from two Japanese words: "karappo," meaning
"empty," and "okesutura," meaning orchestra.
Karaoke means "empty orchestra," just as "karate"
means "empty hand."
Leave it to
Americans to give karaoke a new twist.
The Japanese sang
the songs, more or less anonymously, from their seats, with all eyes
turned to a "mood" video played in the front of the restaurant.
America, however, the spotlight was on the performer, not the song.
Thus was born the "KJ," the Dick Clark of the karaoke
world, whose job was to give young hopefuls their three minutes in
loves to show off, everybody wants to have their three minutes of
fame," says Rich Pashman, who co-owns The Karaoke Store and More
with Chuck Caccioli.
The company, which
stages shows seven days a week in 25 bars, has 15 KJs on tap, as well
as a full line of karaoke equipment for rent ($125 to $175) and for
sale ($289 to $3000). Not to mention custom discs with all the
biggest song hits of the last 50 years -- from "ABC" by the
Jackson Five to "Zoot Suit Riot" by Cherry Poppin' Daddies
-- minus the singing, of course.
And for that
matter, minus the original musicians: For legal reasons, karaoke
versions of song hits are always copycat versions using session
players. "These are not the original recordings -- they're
always reproduced," Pashman says.
Not that it
matters to the crowd at the Sizzlin' Steakhouse, which is cheering
Savoye as she sings "Suddenly Seymour," a "Little Shop
of Horrors" duet, with Goetz.
compliments are nice," Savoye says. "When people I've never
met before say, 'that was really beautiful,' that's great."
Savoye, a Ramapo
College student, stumbled onto the karaoke scene seven years ago,
when she and some friends ended up at a karaoke night in a Lodi bar.
From that point on, she was hooked.
forget the first song I sang," Savoye says."My friend dared
me to get up with him and sing 'La Bamba.' He tricked me. He didn't
sing a word of it. I got stuck singing the whole song."
Funny how karaoke
seems to turn people into practical jokers.
friends put Huey Lewis' name down on a sign-up sheet. The song?
"Stuck With You" by Huey Lewis.
just like the guy," Lewis says.
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