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How to Karaoke Like a Pro Amateur Singer

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First things first: I have never been a “wild child.”  During my teen years, I was a dedicated captain of my high school’s Quiz Bowl team– our post-match parties consisted of watching Team Member L do the “human pretzel” behind a dumpster in the Denny’s parking lot, and Team Member G drinking too much water in an attempt to prove his “manliness” (we were a tame group).  Even when I started going out in college, I was only concerned with themed parties where I could put together an outrageous costume.  Dead Rockstar party where I could sport a fake mustache and pretend to be Sonny Bono?  Hell yes!  A bunch of fratty boys sitting around downing beers, and picking up girls who had squeezed themselves into sparkly tube dresses?  No thanks, I’d rather stay home and watch old episodes of Gilmore Girls.  Now I’m basically an old lady, so I only go big if out-of-towners come to visit and want me to show them a “New York Experience” (fact: my New York Experience typically consists of complaining about how hot/cold/expensive it is).  But, goody-two-shoes homebody that I am, there is one type of party that always, always gets me super excited.  A party that turns me into a stay-up-til-5am, over-energetic party animal.  What could animorph me in such a way?  A karaoke party, of course.

Karaoke is seriously The Best.  It brings people together, and requires everyone to let down their guard and lose their dignity in some way.  I mean, what could be more fun and freeing than standing in front of a group of your friends and belting out a cheesy song while they all clap and support you and sing along?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  It’s the best type of bonding experience that can be shared with close friends, or even new friends or co-workers who you are looking to break the ice with (I once cleared a room while performing a duet of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” with my Japanese co-worker, Masaaki.  He was drunk and has a limited English vocabulary, so he just kept screaming the word “VIRGIN!” over-and-over into the microphone.  I kind of fell in love with him at that moment).  Karaoke is also a great activity to do with your family– my dad has a karaoke machine at his house, and my favorite thing to do is watch him earn a perfect score on Sean Paul’s fast-talkin’ hit “Get Busy.”  The point is, karaoke brings people together just as much as Thanksgiving, a protest, or a Justin Bieber concert.

Karaoke can be done at a karaoke bar, or by renting a room at a karaoke joint.  The only problem with these options is that they can get expensive, and may have restrictions on bringing in food and drinks, which is simply unacceptable because piles of candy and beer are a necessity for any good karaoke party.  A cheaper option would be to gather at a friend’s house.  Korean karaoke machines like the Leadsinger one that my dad owns are cheesy fun, and display idyllic slideshows of Korean landscapes and wildflowers and grazing cattle while you are singing.  They might be megabucks, but you’ll save so much money in the long-run by not paying for private rooms and expensive cocktails!  If you aren’t lucky enough to own one, or know someone with one of these international treasures, just get really back to basics, and broke-ass karaoke like my friends and I did during college– gather around someone’s laptop, YouTube the lyrics to your chosen song, and dance around singing into hairbrushes.  It’s as fun as it looks in teen movies, I promise (although, your call if you want to do it pantsless or not).

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When it comes to karaoke, the more ridiculous the song choice, the better.  No one likes that perfect singer who diva-struts onto the stage and slays everyone with her super-serious rendition of an Adele song.  If you want to show off your Serious Singing Skillz, better to go to an open mic night, or something a little more profesh.  That being said, I appreciate any karaoke performance peppered with a little sass, a lot of goofiness, and a pinch of cute bashfulness– regardless of vocal abilities.  Because of this, it’s best to choose a song that allows you to be a little campy. My friend Claudia and I like to sing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” no matter what time of year.  It’s peppy, almost everyone knows the lyrics, and we get to giggle when we try and always (always) fail to hit the high notes.  Other personal favorites include “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys (performed in a quintet, obvs), “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, anything by Beyonce (hello, girl power!), and “Dancing Queen” by ABBA– but those are just personal favorites.  Pick whatever tune lets your personality shine through, and don’t be afraid to get a little silly.

Just because you’re not getting paid the big bucks to croon onstage doesn’t mean you can’t channel your inner diva at your karaoke party.  I suggest razzle-dazzling it up through your outfit, with lots of glitter, colorful lipsticks, and wacky vintage clothing.  If you’re a huge fan of Diana Ross and plan on singing “I’m Coming Out” at your next karaoke shin dig– then take your love of that big-haired beauty to the max and “come out” in a slinky 70s jumpsuit, tons of iridescent eyeshadow, and some major platforms.  If you’re more of a “classy lounge act” kinda broad, try an LBD, elbow-length gloves, and a crimson pout.  Like Halloween, a karaoke party allows you to try on alternate identities and be whoever you want to be.  Onstage– or, you know, singing into a hairbrush– anything goes.

That being said, I understand that standing in front of a group of people and performing what’s usually reserved for the shower can be completely nerve-wracking (especially if you are an earache-inducing singer like me).  To that I say, “Don’t worry!  The karaoke zone is a safe zone.”  Trust me, no one judges your singing abilities at a karaoke party– everyone is just there to have fun, and most are probably a little nervous about singing, themselves.  If you’re feeling too shy to go solo, try performing in a group– it really helps alleviate nerves if you’re with some of your best friends.  However, I would definitely recommend that you try singing by yourself at least once– it’s totally freeing!  Embarrassed by my horrible singing voice, I personally put off solo karaoke for years, until one night I decided: it was time.  I selected Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and before I knew it, the entire crowd at the karaoke bar was swaying back and forth with their arms in the air!  I felt exhilarated, like I was on an episode of Divas Live!  After my performance, my friend’s eccentric co-worker (a historical mansion groundskeeper, whose worldly possessions consisted solely of a mattress on the floor, and a scratched-up Simon & Garfunkel CD), came up to me and invited me to go to Paris with him, where he would “take care of me.”  My performance had been so powerful that it had moved older, Steve Buscemi-types to hit on me!  I turned him down (let’s be real: he was pretty creepy), but was flattered– and empowered– by my solo karaoke experience.

Friends, costumes, music, and silly, unexpected interactions– for these reasons, karaoke is pretty much the only nighttime activity that can get me out of my Crazy Cat Lady elastic-waist pants, and into glittery, over-the-top Diva Mode.  So next time you feel a song in your heart, why waste it singing in the shower?  Gather a group of friends, and karaoke party all night long!  Now, if only I could get my ex-Quiz Bowl team member L to perform his human pretzel routine at my next karaoke soiree… to my rendition of “Bend Me, Shape Me,” naturally.

Image via Claudia Hawkins

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Carrie Laven - Pretty Penniless

Carrie Laven - Pretty Penniless

Carrie Laven is a natural-born storyteller from California, but she
lives in New York now. She likes dogs, nail art, and Mexican food,
but mostly she likes scoring sweet deals at thrift stores. She tends
to have a flair for the dramatic.