The New Rules of Singing in Public

What grabbing the mic and taking the stage at 11 karaoke spots in 6 days taught Linda Immediato

Linda Immediato sings “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, 1980s.

The fact is most people who like to go to karaoke can actually sing, some think they can sing, and others don’t give a rat’s tush, they just want the chance to live out that rock n’ roll fantasy. And why shouldn’t they? That’s what makes karaoke such a blast.

Remember that cringe-worthy scene in Bridget Jones Diary? Renée Zellweger pitch-es her way through Air Supply’s “Without You,” and though it’s kind of hard to listen to, her fearlessness is endearing. When Scarlett Johansson sings The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket” and Bill Murray croons Roxy Music’s “More Than Thisin Lost in Translation, it’s the common ground of music that connects them in a strange land.

That’s the power of karaoke. 

After testing my pipes at about 11 karaoke spots around the city for this month’s Best of LA column, I learned some lessons and pointers—many the hard way, through humiliation. Here are few for the intimidated and the seasoned ‘oake-goer alike. 

  1. Try a Sunday. Crowds are sparse so the fear factor is low. And though this is the night the pros come out to shine, they are typically very generous with applause and encouragement. If you’re good, you deserve it. If you’re not, well, you make them look that much better.
  2. Song choice is key. You have to feel the vibe of the crowd. After all, part of karaoke is entertaining. So give them what they want.
  3. Bring a friend on stage. Duets are a great way to feel more at ease. It’s a lot less scary.
  4. Don’t pick a rap song unless you know all the words and can bring the rhythm and flow. Nothing is more boring than watching someone mutter and stutter their way through a spoken word fiasco.
  5. If you’re unsure of your singing, I try to mimic the sound and movements of the original performer. Usually you can get pretty close to the recording by doing an impersonation and people seemed to respond favorably to the theatrics.
  6. Drink. But don’t drink too much. A shot of Scottish courage never hurt anyone, but a few shots can hurt a lot of eardrums.
  7. Put on a show. If you’re so inclined, by all means wear a costume, a wig, a pair of sunglasses, or start singing with your back to the audience (this really helps settle the initial nerves and amps the drama).
  8. Sing in a different language. Many of the karaoke spots have song sheets in Japanese and Korean, so you can completely let loose and follow the phonetic sounds. You won’t know what you’re singing, but if the crowd does, they’ll give you major props for trying. You may give them a really good laugh, but again, it’s all about entertaining and you’ll have done your part.
  9. Own the stage. Dance, kick up your heels, look people in the eye, play the rock star. Fake it ‘til you make it.
  10. Don’t stop believin’—or singing. If you mess up, recover quickly; make up words, sounds, talk to the crowd. The bottom line is, if you’re having fun, the crowd will too, and that means more applause for you.

ALSO: Read Best Karaoke Bars