What Is Even the Point of Karaoke, Anyway?

Feb 27, 2013 at 5:45 am
What Is Even the Point of Karaoke, Anyway?
Illustration by Mike Gorman

Karaoke can be a dangerous endeavor. What can you sing that won't make friends shun you? How can you go balls-out during your next performance? Each week in "Ask a Karaoke Host," RFT Music writer and professional karaoke host Allison Babka answers your burning questions about maximizing your melodious mutterings and minimizing your friends' pain. Ask her stuff by emailing [email protected] or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.

What's the point of karaoke, really? It's just a bunch of lame singers who will never be in a band. -- She Hates Me

You, sir, obviously have no soul.

What's the point of a mail clerk wearing a $1,000 suit to a corporate job interview?

What's the point of a kid feeding her stuffed animals fake cookies?

What's the point of 10 million people playing World of Warcraft?

I'll tell you the point. It's hope. Imagination. Determination. Fun. Do you remember what fun is, Debbie Downer?

Children and adults try on different personas all the time. Just look in any office, at any baseball game, during Halloween, at a daycare center or in your own bedroom (Ok, maybe not your bedroom). Everyone knows how to roleplay. Maybe doing a mediocre job of impersonating Bono isn't as lofty as pretending to kill a bunch of orcs, but it's a way to act out something that dwells deep inside. Maybe the singers are conquering a fear, or maybe they're compensating for a trait that their everyday selves don't have.

We've all done that. Somewhere inside me, there's a sultry girl in a shiny dress slinking across a piano while singing "Fever." Now in real life, my cat would snag a hole in the dress and I'd roll off the piano cartoon style, but in my head, I'm giving every guy in the audience boners with my awesome voice and fierce eye contact. And a tiny bit of that comes out during my karaoke performances (The eye contact, anyway. I hope.).

Are you telling me that you've never shredded air guitar like Ritchie Blackmore while your friend blasts "Smoke on the Water" in the car? Because if you are, you're a freaking liar. Music makes us move and feel and imagine and dare. Everybody wants to be admired and applauded in some fashion, and for many folks, a karaoke mic or Rock Band guitar is as close to a Carnegie Hall performance as they'll get. So while these people may "never be in a band," as you so helpfully pointed out, they're doing something gutsy, gaining confidence that will affect other areas of their lives and living like a rock star for three minutes. What have you done lately, asshole?

Have you ever called anyone up to sing that cried or freaked out once they were on stage? -- Freak Scene

You're probably hoping for a hilarious story about a terrified drunk lady who walks up to the mic, bursts into tears and screams "YOU CAN'T MAKE ME DO IT!" before slipping on beer-stained floors as she runs to the restroom.

Unfortunately, my tales aren't quite as messy as that. Not for this question, anyway.

But I've had plenty of people, uh, hesitate before taking the mic. Yes, they're often inebriated. It usually goes something like this:

Me [to audience]: Let's welcome Susie to the mic!

[Audience applauds for 10 seconds. Then silence.]

Me: I said Susie! Susie, come on down!

[Silence. Confusion.]

[15 seconds later] Susie [obviously intoxicated]: What am I thinging?

Me: Uh, "Single Ladies."

Susie: No! No, I'm not thinging THAT!

Me: But... that's the song you gave me.

[Susie clops up to my station, breathing Bud Light Lime into my face as she looks over my shoulder at my computer.]

Susie [loudly and drunkenly]: WHY CAN'T I THING?

Me [frantically loading a video to fill the silence and appease the audience]: Um, you can sing. What do you want to do?

Susie: "THOOP!"

Me [sighing]: Ok, let me get it for you.


Donna: Sing it your damn self. I'm not goin' up there.



Susie: WHAT? [Clops over to Donna, sits down, drools.]

Me: Ooooookayyyyyy [giving up]. John! Let's welcome John up here, everyone!

[Audience applauds. John walks toward the mic.]


[Repeat scene twice. Commence headache.]

As an in-demand karaoke host at many bars and events, Allison Babka receives her share of drunken song dedications, occasionally makes people cry and even has been glorified by a singing psychic. She sings entirely too many Miley Cyrus songs, and she hates herself for it. Bug her with karaoke nonsense on Twitter at @ambabka, and use #rftkaraoke.

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