Here’s something that some of you may not know, in the last three years I’ve totally become a karaoke addict. I regularly go (at least once a month and often more) to belt out a tune or two. So how did this happen and what’s the appeal?
Well, like many things in my life, it happened largely by accident. A friend of mine was back in town and a group of us decided to meet at Puzzles (one of our old haunts from back in the day.) As it turned out, there was karaoke going on that night. We weren’t sure if we wanted to stay at first, but ultimately decided it might be fun to watch. None of us had any intention of actually taking the microphone and participating.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the diversity of the crowd really surprised me. There were people of all ages there (19-70) and their musical selections were equally diverse. Hip Hop, rock, show tunes, punk, country, jazz numbers were all represented that night. It was fun to watch, especially when the song choice seemed to conflict with “the look” of the performer. We all enjoyed watching a huge biker dude belting out a Britney Spears song, for example.
It was only a matter of time before a few jugs of beer were consumed and my friends were daring me to perform. After a few beers, I have difficulty resisting these kinds of things, so I accepted the challenge. I decided to go with the first song that came into my head: Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.” This was a song I used to try to imitate as a 12 year old (complete with gravelly voice). I’m not sure why that popped into my head, but before I knew it, I had filled out the song slip and one of my friends (I think it was Jay) eagerly handed it to the karaoke host. There would be no backing down now.
I would like to say, I felt confident and eagerly awaited my chance to win over the crowd, but the truth is, I was actually quite nervous; verging on terrified. Even though we had seen performers of all levels of singing ability being supported by the crowd, my inner critic was telling me “if you’re going to do this, you better not settle for anything less than perfection. It doesn’t matter if the crowd is friendly and just here to drink beer and have fun. That’s not good enough. YOU have to be better than that! Don’t suck!” Yep, my inner critic can be a total asshole.
My apprehension grew as the night progressed, made worse by a string of performers that if they were in any other city would probably be singing professionally, but in Ottawa they were bureaucrats by day and karaoke superstars at night! Finally my name was called and I went up to perform. The song went over well. My friends loved it and cheered from their table. The rest of the bar also responded with the support they had shown all evening for anyone brave enough to take the microphone.
The applause of the crowd was addictive and I did enjoy the feeling of community and support of the bar. The host, “Stray,” personified this vibe. She was, and still is, extremely inclusive and friendly by nature, which helped to set the mood for a great night. I had fun but I hadn’t completely silenced my inner critic. The smiling faces of my friends did not stop my keen awareness of everything I did wrong, rather than focusing on what I did right; however, I was able to recognize that karaoke could help me towards the goal of eventually turning off the critic. By continually putting myself onstage, supported by my friends and the crowd, I could do battle with myself and force myself to just enjoy the moment. More importantly, I would also be having fun in a social setting and enjoying a few drinks. I became a regular and, fortunately for me, many of my friends (like Nadine and Sterling) also became regulars as well. While I have gone alone, it’s much more fun to go with friends. Aside from the camaraderie, it’s also really great to see a friend hit one out of the park and win over the crowd.
Puzzles has closed and we have moved on to Woody’s on Elgin now, but the vibe is the same and after many turns at the microphone (at various levels of intoxication) I have become much better at being in the moment and being less ends focussed. Guess what? By being less concerned with the end result I have also become a better singer. I think there is a lesson there for any activity. More importantly, by taking risks and trying songs way outside of my normal repertoire I am able to push myself out of comfort zone and do battle with my inner critic. I’ve had a couple of successes on occasions where I’ve failed completely at a song, but been largely OK with it. I’m proud of that.
Best of all, I’ve been able to do all this while making new friends, enjoying the company of old ones, and revelling in (and longing for) the roar of the crowd.