Wikipedia describes karaoke as "a form of entertainment in which amateur singers sing along with recorded music." The word "amateur" is the key. A few people might be so good that they tour karaoke bars for a living, but it's mostly an art form for those of us who can't quit our day jobs but still love to sing.
The word also derives from Japanese words meaning "empty" and "orchestra," which could either mean you're so good that you don't need backup or so awful that the rest of the band split.
To me, karaoke translates as "good, old-fashioned, possibly costumed fun."
I can't help it; it's cheesy, but entertaining. As "American Idol" wraps up each year, I get a tug in my vocal cords to go out on the town and show everyone the prowess of my pipes on the assumption that if a bartender or some 17-year-old "Idol" kid can do it, surely I can, too. And to satisfy a songbird fix, there are several options in town to choose from. For me, the Woodshed is the best venue in town, with Al's Alaskan Inn a close second.
If you're a crooning newbie, there are a few things to remember before you go. First: song selections to ensure that no matter how many G&Ts you swill to kill the nervous jitters, you'll still sound halfway reminiscent of Brian Adams. And second: tips to keep you from getting booed offstage, or worse.
Good song choices include anything from the '80s that has a rocking beat and a familiar chorus. For example: "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey (overdone but so awesome), anything by Bon Jovi, or "Sweet Child O'Mine" by Guns N' Roses (especially if you rock a killer '80s mike slither like Axl). Loud, simple rock songs are great because most people will cheer even if you completely bomb -- after all, '80s metal singers mostly screamed at the mike anyway.
Based on Internet research, bad song choices include anything longer than four minutes. Most karaoke bars have long queues of singers waiting their turn, so picking something like "Hotel California" or "American Pie" will garner more eye-daggers than applause. Another hint: Stay away from Meat Loaf.
Songs that guarantee you're "that guy" or "that girl": "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot, "I've Got Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks. With these, it's implied that you absolutely butcher the song. If you do a decent job and refrain from bringing eight people onstage with you to shout into the mike, you should be OK.
Good or bad, if you have the moxie to get onstage, intoxicated or not, and attempt to entertain a crowd of complete strangers, well, my friend, then you have embodied all that karaoke stands for: freedom, adrenaline and the solipsistic delirium that for one moment, you're being watched by everyone in the room. And that's a feeling no one can take away. Not even Simon Cowell.
If karaoke's not your style, there are several music- and performance-related opportunities in town this summer, beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday with a "Rock Band" "Idol"-style competition at Bernie's Bungalow Lounge, where finalists will compete for the crowd's vote and prizes. Also, Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse hosts "Guitar Hero" night at 9 p.m. Mondays. If you're the strong, silent, Sambora or Slash type, you're covered.