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Column Debut: Ask a Karaoke Host (Riverfront Times)

Sepia tone photo of a woman singing into a retro microphone

Confession: I was a professional karaoke host for four years. I'll write a memoir about the hijinks one day, but it's fair to say that I saw a lot of weird stuff during that time. Like, a lot.

I began writing for the Riverfront Times as a freelancer in 2012, and one of the things I'd somewhat-jokingly pitched to my editor was a "confessions" series where I'd get the good dirt from other karaoke hosts around town. Somehow, my editor and I morphed that idea into a weekly advice column where, as a professional karaoke expert, I'd school karaoke n00bs in fine singalong etiquette. After the debut column, we titled the endeavor "Ask a Karaoke Host."

I answered two to four anonymous reader questions weekly for seven months, when another project forced me to scale back my RFT output a bit. I'd like to think that during that time, my words encouraged more KJ tipping and nudged first-daters towards romance, and people still quote their favorite questions and answers when they learn that I was the one who wrote the column.

Below, I've included a selection from my debut column.


Karaoke can be a dangerous endeavor. What can you sing that won't make friends shun you? How can you go balls-out during your next performance? Each week, RFT Music writer and professional karaoke host Allison Babka answers your burning questions about maximizing your melodies and minimizing your friends' pain. Ask her stuff by emailing or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.

How do you get your quiet friend to join in on the karaoke fun? Is it OK to submit a song suggestion for them? - (Like a Rolling) Stone

Dude, don't be a jerk. I know you mean well, but unless your friend absolutely loves surprises AND public performances, I'd stay away from secretly putting their name into the karaoke punch bowl. You risk breaching your friend's trust and embarrassing the hell out of her, and for what? A giggle and some peer pressure? Not worth it. Be a better friend than that.

What I suspect you're really wondering is how you can make sure your friend is having a good time when they're at a karaoke bar with you, which is awesome. Honestly, Buddy might be perfectly content playing the loud, clapping cheerleader from the table while you belt out "Mr. Roboto."

But if you truly think your pal would have a good time at the mic, you'll have to ease them into it. Once they've demonstrated that they enjoy being around karaoke, suggest that your whole table perform together. Let your quiet friend offer up song options, and assure them they can be Tito Jackson in the back of the group instead of the flashier Michael or Jermaine. If they seem to dig that, gently suggest performing a duet together on another night. And if you find success there, they might just take on a solo without any further help from you.

But don't push too hard or too quickly, and don't take it personally if you can't convert them. Some people are singers, some are supporters, and you might just have to live with that.

Should someone who is noticeably intoxicated be allowed to karaoke? - Drink, Baby, Drink

I'll tell you a secret: My job as a karaoke host isn't to get people to sing; it's to get people to drink and, thus, make the bar some coin. Bad renditions of "Don't Stop Believin'" are just gravy. So you bet your ass that every twenty minutes, I'm going to suggest that everyone head to the bar for a beer or four.

Of course, this means that some folks imbibe a bit too much and get ruder throughout the evening. They clap like monkeys and shout requests, and their own songs feature notes that Mariah's dog can't even hear. But depending on the venue, drunk karaoke = fun karaoke. As long as the audience feels safe and appears to have a good time despite the screeching, slobbering mess at the mic, I'll allow it.

But if someone becomes a belligerent prick who spits beer everywhere like Steven Tyler in the name of his "performance," I'll cut 'em off.

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