it's the early 80s. my cousin mi-chelle and I are at the CNE when we encounter a strange contraption called the Singing Machine. A singing machine?!Turns out the machine doesn't actually sing, but instead plays the music of popular tunes, allowing some lucky person to jump onstage and sings along. Whoa, and with a microphone.
I'm sure you can imagine our girlish glee.
I go up onstage and sing Let's Hear It For The Boy, by Denise Williams, to a completely indifferent wandering crowd. So what? I'm in heaven.
That was my introduction to the phenomenon known as karaoke, which soon swept the nation, then disappeared into obscurity and resurfaced as part of the retro kitsch irony era. (Also see ABBA, blaxploitation and Night Ranger.) It finally worked its way into the mainstream while launching a hostile takeover of the music industry in the form of American Idol, the biggest karaoke contest ever.
Gotta dig it.
"You overcome all your fears doing karaoke," says Rick, an antique furniture salesman who's just finished singing a hammed-up New York, New York at Crews and Tango, where the KJ is a woman by the name of Foofer. "It's masturbation onstage." Beautiful.
Carson T. Foster, who's hosting Kickass Karaoke at the Bovine Sex Club Wednesday (February 12), says, "The big thing for a lot of people is the potential of failing."
In Japan, he adds, they have courses for business executives during which attention-phobic men are forced to assert and exhibit themselves.
"I saw this one guy in Japan who was sent out to sing on a subway platform. He was shaking and practically in tears. You're putting yourself in a position where you can be laughed at. You're standing in front of people and saying, "Here I am. Judge me.'"Massive circle jerk? Assertiveness therapy? Art? Yes.
Until March 2, the Power Plant is running Lee Bul: Live Forever, which features really cool-looking karaoke "pods." Once inside, the singer selects a tune via keypad, puts on headphones and rocks out in a cozy little cocoon.
And why shouldn't karaoke achieve almost iconic status in a society full of people so desperate for love and attention, we're willing to risk total humiliation to get it? (See Blind Date, The Fifth Wheel, Popstars and, of course, American Idol.)
CTV is gearing up to launch a Canadian version of American Idol. And you -- yes, you -- could be the next singing sensation (though you will, of course, still probably have to move to the U.S. if you want to make any money)!
They don't know where or when auditions will be held and aren't giving out any information until, I'm told, the end of the month.
But in the meantime, if you're going to have a chance at the title, you have to practise, practise, practise.
And if it's going to be anything like American Idol, the best way to do this is with a karaoke machine.
There are myriad places around the city where you can prepare yourself for the role of Canadian Idol.
XO Karaoke, above Clinton's, offers private rooms for $25 to $60 an hour, depending on size (don't worry -- yes, there's booze). The advantage is that you can sing as many times as you like, whereas at most bars you'll be lucky if you get two songs in.
In room 7, I encounter a party of recent Second City workshop graduates sprawled on leather couches belting out all the classics (Bonnie Tyler, Enrique Iglesias, Irene Cara) interspersed with what look like improv exercises. None of them, I'm told, is planning on auditioning for Canadian Idol, but I've just missed one of the show's organizers. (They won't give me his name.)
Just my luck. Since they're actors, I ask for tips on wowing the judges.
"You need to emote!" commands Erin Gamelin. "And don't just sing the song, but feel the song."
"Commit to the song," adds Leslie Gottlieb. "Use the Stanislavsky method. Be one with the mike."
Chanting and meditating can't hurt either. I sing a song and commit to the song. I am one with the mike.
Then I try knocking on some more doors, but nobody else will let me into their room.
Ossington Street is lined with Vietnamese restaurants where folks just pass the mike around without even getting up from the table, and often no one pays any attention to the person singing. This might not be the best atmosphere for honing your skills. A Canadian Idol should move around.
"Swing your arms!" suggests Foster when I ask him for advice. "Do something with those things. You're not carrying luggage!" The Kickass Karaoke Web site also suggests practising naked in front of a mirror. Think Fosse Fosse Fosse!
"If you get lost," he adds, "don't stutter. Don't look stupid. Take a pause and let it go. If you're gonna fuck up, make it look deliberate."
Oh yeah, the old I-meant-to-do-that. And if you get really lost, the best way to distract attention is by taking off your clothes.
Foster himself, who was almost nekkid when I met him at the Bovine, sometimes employs a megaphone or voice-box. Kickass is by far the most entertaining night I come across, and it has the best song list.
Consider singing a Butthole Surfers or Siouxie and the Banshees song for your audition. Imagine how tired the judges must get of hearing the same pop stuff over and over again.
Follow this advice and you're sure to knock 'em dead when audition time rolls around.
And finally, don't worry about whether you can sing or not. That's for the judges to firstname.lastname@example.org karaoke spots
Wanna sing with a decent band backing you up? Here's where karaoke rules.
The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West) Karaoke Wednesday to Saturday.
Fooftastic, hosted by Foofer, at Crews and Tango (508 Church) Tuesday and Thursday, the Winchester Pub (537 Parliament) Wednesdays and Bar 501 (501 Church) Mondays.
Kickass Karaoke, hosted by Carson Foster, is at the Bovine Sex Club (542 Queen West) the second Wednesday of every month.
XO Karaoke (693 Bloor West) offers karaoke seven nights a week. Room rentals range from $25 to $60 an hour.
Goldie Foxx Bar & Grill (3 Gerrard East) Karaoke Monday nights.
Kickass Karaoke at the Bovine Sex Club (542 Queen West), Wednesday (February 12). Free. 416-504-4239.