You hear the drum beat first, then the bass and, finally, the guitar kicks in. You step to the microphone. The crowd is on its feet. The spotlight is on you. It’s karaoke night, and you’re the star.
“It’s a chance for a little showmanship, some performance,” said John Zahr, a local karaoke aficionado. “And I’m not going to tell you that I’m one who hates attention.”
It’s also a chance for patrons to hear their friends and complete strangers step up, good singing voice or not, and throw their inhibitions aside.
“Not everyone wants to sing, but they love to come see what is going to happen,” said DJ Scott Roth, of The Edge Karaoke in Hillsboro.
Roth said he always enjoys being surprised by someone with an unexpectedly great voice.
“There are times when you’re totally floored,” Roth said. “I think a lot of people come to karaoke just to see that all-of-a sudden, ‘Wow,’ moment.”
For bars and restaurants, karaoke is a fun, less-expensive type of entertainment that lets patrons have some interactive fun. Roth said hiring a DJ to put on a night of karaoke is much cheaper than hiring a band, but it can still be a major draw.
Many establishments have turned to karaoke for mid-week entertainment. Fody’s Great American Tavern in Nashua hosts karaoke every Tuesday night, while Theo’s Pizza Restaurant in Manchester has it on Wednesday evenings. Plenty of establishments host karaoke on weekend nights as well. New Wa Toy in Manchester has it on Thursday and Saturdays, and the Daniel Street Tavern has karaoke Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
“There’s definitely an art to choosing a song,” Zahr said. “I think a big part of karaoke is pleasing the crowd. ... I’ve spent many hours perusing those giant binders [of songs], looking for something that’s off their radar, something they might like but not hear all the time.”
Zahr does have some tried and true stalwarts he falls back on: Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and, if it’s a slower crowd, Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is.”
“I would say I’m very self-aware of my lack of talent in singing, but at the same time, I take it seriously in terms of performing and being an entertainer,” Zahr said.
For karaoke to be successful, a few key ingredients are needed: a variety of music, quality equipment, alcohol and a good host. Trends vary as far as type of music. Roth said at some places he can do country music all night long. In the Manchester, Nashua and Concord stretch, hip-hop and pop are more popular.
DJ Bobby Freedom said he’s more of a classic rock fan himself, but on karaoke nights, it’s not about him, it’s about the singers. He knows that, with his crowds, he has to have popular country singers like Eric Church lined up and ready to go.
“We get a good mix,” Roth said. “We’re always challenging people to try something they haven’t tried before. I want to challenge them … to see what’s in their range.”
While patrons might use a little liquid courage before they take the mike, Roth said plenty of people take it very seriously.
“We love to see that shy person take the microphone,” Roth said. “It’s always a lot of fun to see that.”
Roth said he sees new faces at his karaoke nights, but he also has regulars. They relish the chance to show off their voices. Some have great voices, others not so much, but they still love to sing, Roth said.
And then, “There are people who there’s not enough alcohol in New Hampshire to get them behind a microphone,” Roth laughed.