Hi, my name is Drew. You know me as the writer of awesome articles and reviews. What you may not know is this: despite my six-figure Popblerd salary (???!?!?-ed.), I do feel the need to keep myself busy in the working world. Some are accountants; some are truck drivers. I, dear readers… I am a karaoke host.
That’s right. Ever walked by a bar, only to be seduced by the dulcet tones of a sleeveless drunk mangling Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”? Ever thought to yourself, you know, this night could only be made better by seventeen inebriated women crowding around two microphones, braying Meredith Brooks’ immortal “Bitch”? Ever witnessed a Hollister-clad frat boy cockily stroll up to a stage, only to assail the ears with Vanilla Ice’s gritty street narrative “Ice Ice Baby”? And have you ever wondered who, exactly, it is inflicting such things upon you? Well, I’m here to introduce you to that guy. Once again, Hi, my name is Drew.
It all started, I suppose, in Massachusetts. An 18-year-old college student, I was far from an extrovert. (Key word: was.) And when six friends of mine piled into my Grand Marquis for some quality fine dining at the local Applebee’s, it was innocuous, a simple meal out with friends on a night off; who knew my life would change that night?
But there it was: down in the bar area, a series of tables had been cleared out of the corner. Replacing them was a man, and a sound system, and a pair of microphones. Winding his way through the bar was another man, microphone in hand, seducing the crowd with a strained-but-spirited “Takin’ Care of Business”. I’d heard of this karaoke before – you sing the words to popular songs off of a screen, and hopefully people clap for you. A serial listener, I devoured music, poring over every detail; and I had a singing voice, kinda, so surely, I could do this, right? Didn’t matter – moments later, my name and song choice was on a tiny slip, and in the possession of the host. There was no backing out now.
I remember vividly the four songs I sang that night. Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” for hilarity. Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” and the Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine” for soul. And that first one, the intoxicating tongue-twister “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M. For those of you not brave enough to attempt it, spoiler alert: you’ll nail the chorus and “Leonard Bernstein!” And that’s it.
Was I any good at these? No. My voice strained its upper registers at “Baby One More Time” (having been convinced for so long that I was a strict baritone), chickened out and sang an octave lower on the Isleys, and just took the day off completely on “End of the World”, unconvinced that it was being compensated correctly for being forced to work at such a breakneck pace. But there was this one moment, near the end of the Janis number, that completely ruined me for life; “YOU KNOW YOU GOT IT!” she screams, and then there’s a crack of the drums and the whole band pauses for Janis to wail a throat-shredding “AAUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHHHTAKEIT!” before stomping right back into the chorus. Overcome by the song, I ditched my singing-an-octave-lower shtick to shriek that note at full volume, piercing through the crowd like an Iron Maiden high note. The room erupted in applause; I’d literally never been as thrilled in my entire life as in that moment. I was a star.
I’d chase that feeling back to the Applebee’s in Quincy more than once that year, but when I left college (and subsequently Boston), I left karaoke behind. I was 21 by the time I did karaoke again. My friend Ryan and I stopped in a Best Buy for something or other, when our interest was piqued by an active XBox with two microphones dangling from it. Turns out, it was a demo for a karaoke game, and Ryan and I queued it up and let ‘er rip. You see, we’d fostered this relationship of one-upsmanship over the years, a sort of friendly competition to see who could get more attention. We both craved it, and both egged each other on like frat boys. As I clung to every note of Heart’s “Alone”, Ryan dramatically making his air-guitar cry beside me, a crowd started to gather, bemused, weirded out, but entertained. Twenty minutes later, we emerged, sweaty and excitable, from the Best Buy. Ryan slung an arm around my shoulder. “That was awesome. Tonight,” he said, “we find karaoke.”
As it turns out, in the South Jersey/Northern Delaware area, karaoke is more than a possibility on any given night – it is an inevitability. Filled with wanna-be stars, small-town heroes, and singers that never even tried to make it, it’s impossible to find a bar that doesn’t do karaoke at least once a week. We chose Dill’s Seafood, about 20 minutes down the road, and strode into their upper room with our entourage in tow. We now had a purpose; we now could indulge those rock and roll dreams of ours. That night, Ryan tanked Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” and I brutally assaulted the Kinks’ “Lola” – but perusing the karaoke book, our fingers drifted, simultaneously, to the Outkast section. “‘Roses’,” he whispered. “They have ‘Roses’.” We’d finally found what we were good at: being awesome together. As the DJ urged us to not say expletives on the mic, we looked up at the far wall, to the seafood restaurant’s reverent wood carving of various aquatic creatures, and we had our outro. “Stupid old fish (crazy fish!), old dumb old fish (crazy fish!)”… perfect synergy had been achieved. Karaoke stages were now and forever ours for the taking.