Toronto
3 min

Swallow your pride

And get a taste for the lyric prompter

KARAOKE: THAT'S JAPANESE FOR NINCOMPOOP. Foofer, songbird and karaoke hostess extrodinaire, shows off the tools of her trade. Credit: Jan Becker

I used to think karaoke belonged in the same category as disco bowling and cow tipping: something you do in the sticks when drinking becomes a little too predictable.



My first experience with the art form was at the Dundas Cactus festival (a whole other story), where I was sick-dog drunk and at the mercy of middle-aged country revelers. A presumably heterosexual man brought down the house with a rousing rendition of “Don’t Want No Short Dick Man,” laughing at the irony, while his wife blushed into her sixth tequila sunrise.



My clearly queer friends felt out of their element and feared for their lives. I, however, raised a country bumpkin, flipped through the song index looking for the perfect Pat Benatar song. I knew full well the embarrassment couldn’t follow me all the way back to the big city.

My friends dragged me away before I could make my debut.



Where, oh where, could I go to fulfill said fantasies? I practiced singing at the bus stop with my Walkman; I watched Julia Love Hewitt and Brandy do their cute-angsty thing on film. I cried watching Chloe Sevigny sing the “Bluest Eyes In Texas” in the recent release Boys Don’t Cry. I was ready.



With a little poking around, I discovered karaoke has a raucous urban following. The Red Spot has a particularly popular night on Mondays at 10pm put on by Foofer. Nights like hers provide an opportunity to watch professional performers on their nights off, natural amateur show-offs and couples earnestly belting duets to each other.

I was in love. I learned many things:



• It is vital to incorporate drinking into the ritual sing-alongs, even if you do not get stage fright.



• Choose within your approximate vocal range. If you don’t know what that is, stay away from Celine/Barbra/Ms McLachlan… choose a Leonard Cohen or Love And Rockets song, where it sounds good if you use your talking voice.



• Dancing with the microphone gets you more audience appreciation.



• No one fails at karaoke; the point is to have fun. Clap for everyone.



• It’s okay to cry, especially when two older men sing each other a love song.



• It’s okay to laugh when friends decide to bring back glam rock by singing “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” even if they do it very, very well.



Suzi Richter, a musician by trade, tried her hand at karaoke for the first time after five or six gin and tonics. “It was everything I hoped it would be” says the former vocalist of dyke, punk, rock unit, Claudia’s Cage. She got on stage with me to sing “Add It Up” by the Violent Femmes. “Now that I’ve developed a taste for the lyric prompter, I will definitely try it again.”



Despite years of being on stage she insists she was intimidated by the Red Spot stage. “I didn’t understand the lyric prompter relationship at first. I was horrified.”



Derick Hazhey, also a professional singer, performed a titillating version of “Hero” by Mariah Carey. He indulges about three or four times a year. “It’s a nice opportunity to go up on stage without being critiqued,” says Hazhey. “There’s low expectations.”



Mariko Tamaki, fresh from performing a comedy act earlier in the evening, declared no amount of liquor could get her on stage singing Joan Jett. Her karaoke career ended at the tender age of 10. “It was a big part of my childhood. We would go as a family. I sang ‘Bust A Move.’ It was in Midland and the people at the restaurant took it very, very seriously. My mom almost won a contest singing the ‘Yellow Rose of Texas.'”



When I finally stepped on the stage, mic in hand, it was everything I’d hoped. Lip-synching was never this exciting. I’m ready to go back to Dundas and try the real thing.



WHERE CAN I GET MY SHOT?



There are many places in Toronto to get your taste. Here are some of the hot spots.



In gay village:

Foofer, who is highly recommended by me (and did a great version of “Heartbreaker” on the night I debuted) tours around the ghetto with her tools. You can catch her at:

The Red Spot (459 Church St; 416-967-7768) on Mondays at 10pm. Free

Tango (508 Church St; 416-972-1662) on Thursdays at 10pm. Free

Pope Joan (547 Parliament St; 416-925-6662) on Sundays. Free



Other nights:

Spirits Bar And Grill (642 Church St; 416-967-0001) on Saturdays, from 10pm to 2am, and on Sundays, from 9pm to 1am.



In the east end:

Rio (129 Danforth Ave, at Broadview; 416-461-2008.)



For you west-enders:

The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St W: 416-531-4635), Saturday nights, starting at 9pm. Brought to you by Colin. Free

XO Karaoke ( 693 Bloor St W, above Clintons tavern; 416-535-9541). Everyday from 4pm, going all night.



On-line magazine world resource for karaoke:

www.karaokescene.com.



Rent a machine for an at-home bash:

Karaoke Closet Party Rentals (1-800-214-4919).