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Karaoke Is Making a Comeback

By JOE CALLAHAN

Some people sing because they're dared. Some sing to get away from it all, even if it's just for three short minutes. Others sing because they've always dreamed of the day when they would make it to stardom's main stage.

Karaoke is back in Ocala.

Many bar owners say slow weeknight business has forced them to provide something different for their customers in hopes of drawing larger crowds. Some bars have now added nightly karaoke and even dance clubs have joined in the phenomenon in an effort to get a piece of the action.

Today, karaoke is not what it was 10 years ago when it first hit the United States -- years after the Japanese began taking their rice field tradition into nightclubs,

Years ago, karaoke was simple. There was a karaoke machine -- a speaker box with a microphone attached -- sitting on stage and singers stood before an audience of bar-stool jockeys.

But soon people who packed into the bars to laugh at a friend's rendition of ''Brown Eyed Girl'' or ''Give Them Something to Talk About,'' faded away from the karaoke scene because the same people sang the same songs every night.

Though a few bars continued the tradition despite the fading fascination, most bars ditched karaoke by about 1995. But karaoke is making a comeback, thanks to better sound, lights and a bigger choice of music.

In the last few years disc jockeys have started making karaoke a part of their repertoire Now, good DJs have a way to keep everyone entertained, without making patrons feel like a ''Gong Show'' audience.

Elaborate sound systems pump out a mixture of dance music under strobe lights and mirrored disco balls, and singers are carefully woven into the show to keep everyone from getting bored. In some clubs, singers using wireless microphones to mingle on the dance floor with revelers. People blend into the crowd and as the night wears on -- and drinks are consumed -- patrons really don't know who is singing anymore.

No longer do patrons attending these new-wave karaoke nights have a chance to sit on bar stools and grumble under their breath about the window-breaking screech of wannabe singers who bellow for everyone to enjoy.

Karaoke is now all about entertainment, without embarrassment.

''If I had to stand on stage and stare out at all those drunk people, sitting there looking at me, I would never do it,'' said Johnny Smithson of Kansas, who was visiting a local dance club and was surprised to find karaoke.

CHANGING TIMES
Steve Giza remembers back in 1991, just two years after he started Dooley's restaurant and lounge on Silver Springs Boulevard, that weeknight business was extremely slow.

He heard about a new karaoke fad and decided to try it.

''Immediately, my customers became hooked,'' Giza said recently. ''They really loved singing. Every Tuesday since that first night, I have had karaoke here. We were probably the first to get it and the only business to have continued it.''

Giza said when interest started fading, he was forced to find better disc jockeys, ones with better sound. A few years later, he was forced to find a good disc jockey with good sound and strobe lights.

''People want to dance and have a good time,'' Giza said. ''No longer do they come to hear people sing. They come to dance. You have to have the thumping music to keep everyone moving and enjoying themselves.''

Some long-time karaoke establishments actually have made their entertainment solely karaoke.

Charlie Horse restaurant and lounge on Silver Springs Boulevard features karaoke every night of the week. Gringos in The Villages retirement community offers karaoke Tuesday through Saturday. Other businesses feature it several times per week.

But until recently karaoke was missing from the downtown square.

Harry's featured the hometown restaurant and lounge atmosphere. Lillian's -- which has since closed -- featured live bands most weekends and The Tin Cup gives patrons a chance to shoot darts and watch television.

Fired Up features three floors of different types of dance music, and O'Malley's Alley features two live bands and a disc jockey most weekends. But for many establishments, weeknight business has been fading.

After O'Malley's recently added Wednesday night boxing to boost poor attendance, Fired Up added karaoke to its Thursday night agenda. O'Malley's followed and also offers karaoke on the same night.

Fired Up, most area residents business owners agreed, seemed like the least likely establishment to take a stab at the renewed fascination with karaoke. That's because of its strong dance club theme.

''We wanted to add karaoke to bring more people in here,'' said Richard Mann, who started Fired Up several years ago. ''Karaoke is back and I felt we needed to add it to one of the floors on Thursday night and it's been great.''

But Fired Up's version of karaoke is slightly different than most bars.

On the third floor Jeff Drummond and Matt McCracken of Elite Entertainment provide their on type of ''Star Search''-type stage show. Drummond roams the crowd, keeping action going all night.

''The idea is to keep the fun times going for everyone and at the same time allowing people to get their chance to sing,'' Drummond said. ''That's why it's better to have two working karaoke to keep everyone involved.''

One recent evening, after playing several up-beat dance songs, Drummond announced waitress Jessie Rogers, 21 -- who took a break from selling shots – who began singing ''Strawberry Wine.''

''I love to sing, so I sometimes come upstairs on Thursday nights to sing a song or two,'' said Rogers. ''For a lot of us, we would love to be doing this for a living. For now, karaoke is all some of us have.''

The bottom line, karaoke singers say, it's a way to get into the action.

HISTORY
Karaoke is a common form of entertainment for Japanese business people. They drop into a bar with colleagues after work, have a drink, and enjoy singing popular songs to the accompaniment of karaoke.

Karaoke is a Japanese abbreviated compound word: "kara" comes from "karappo" meaning empty, and "oke" is the abbreviation of "okesutura," or orchestra.

Karaoke has been entertaining people ever since its invention 20 years ago, and has become firmly established in Japanese society, going far beyond just a temporary boom.

Though karaoke was at first an entertainment mainly for business people, it has grown to be a nationwide amusement, thanks to technological development and a new business called the "karaoke box," a small facility containing closed-door, sound-insulated rooms for singing. They are advertised as a place where customers can sing to their heart's content.

The first karaoke box appeared in 1984 in a rice field in the countryside of Okayama Prefecture, just west of the Kansai area. It was built from a converted rail freight car.

Since then, karaoke boxes have been built all over Japan. In urban areas karaoke rooms, which consist of compartments made by partitioning and soundproofing rooms in a building, serve the same purpose.

Taken from an article found in the Marion Country Star-Banner


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