Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Karaoke Crazy

Rockin' out! (No, I am not in this picture!)
You’ve ended up at a karaoke party.  Do your eyes roll madly in their sockets while you search for a quiet corner? Do you hyperventilate at the thought of singing in public? Or do you grab the microphone and start rockin’ out?

I used to hyperventilate. Just the thought of singing in front of a crowd made the contents of my gut begin to churn. But some years back when my then-pastor, the saintly and adorable Rev. Davis Chappell was turning forty, the church decided to throw a big party for him whether he liked it or not. I called the organizer and said, “I’ve written a parody of the song ‘This Magic Moment’ titled ‘This Tragic Moment,” and you have to sing it to Davis.”

Steve said, “No, you have to sing it.”

I panicked. “No! No! I can’t sing in public! My voice goes all quivery and I can’t breathe and—”

He commanded, “Sing it for me now.”

Obediently, like the good little Catholic girl I once was, I sang the song in my terrified, quivery, singing-in-public voice, knowing he would agree posthaste I couldn’t possibly sing in front of the group.

Steve said, “You’re singing. I’ll accompany you on the piano. Meet me an hour before to practice.” And he hung up.

Moment of truth time. I sing alto, can keep a tune, and once in a while sound pretty good—in my home, my car, or in the anonymity of a large congregation. But my fear of singing or even speaking in front of a crowd kept me cowering in dread of doing either one.

I had two choices: to finally accept that I was never ever ever going to sing in public, or to woman up and sing.

Time to woman up.

For the next week I practiced obsessively in private, and then began stopping people at work saying, “I have to sing this song in front of you.” Eventually I could do it without having the vapors, and without the accompanying urge to vomit.

The night of the party I practiced with Steve but without a microphone, and managed to get through it in tune, without the quavering.

An hour later Steve put a microphone in my hand.

I sang the first line quietly. Through some holy miracle I sounded—good. My shoulders straightened and I began to sing louder, more confidently, bluesier. And the crowd loved it. By the end they were singing along and cheering. People told my husband, “I didn’t know Valerie could sing!” He said, “Neither did I!”

Much later, a new friend invited me to a karaoke party, a regular event at her house. I selected the song “Crazy,” by Patsy Cline. Typical rookie-karaoke bravado, I learned, to think I could handle that song. Every woman at geezer karaoke bars thinks they can sing “Crazy.” Here’s a hint: most people suck.

But—I didn’t suck. I sang that song like I was born in 1932, like I wore a ’50s full-skirted dress and kerchief, like Willie Nelson (who wrote it) wrote it just for me. I owned that song. One guy said, “I’ll never look at you the same again.” And he meant it in a good way.

Afterward a woman said, “That used to be my signature song, but I’ll never sing it again. I hate you. I’m kidding.” Then she said, “I hate you a little.”

So, if you’re hosting a karaoke party, I’m your girl. I’ll sing in groups, duets, singly, whatever. I haven’t yet braved the world of karaoke bars, but someday I just might.

But if you’re contemplating following my road to instant karaoke stardom, a word of advice: Do NOT steal another person’s signature karaoke song. And by that I mean, stay away from Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” That song is mine.

And I’m not kidding.


  1. I do occasionally ...ahem...take the karaoke mic in hand and test my tubes and (the audience's pain level). Let's face it; I'm addicted to it, and I will not (read cannot) shy away from it, no matter how badly I mess up. My one proverb: Don't take yourself too seriously. And that's why I sing.

  2. Yes, Bob, you are what we in the business refer to as a karaoke whore. And we mean that in the best possible way! You make it so much fun.

  3. I'd love to sing in public but I've no voice, no tune, and am tone deaf. I'd be part of the worse of American Idol montage if I showed up.

    But on my way to Greenville, or while playing the guitar on Guitar Hero, I will sing out and pretend I'm a rock star.

    1. Good for you, Carole! My husband only sings in church. He says, "God gave me this voice, He's going to listen to it."

  4. I'll rock out the karaoke bars with you when you're ready! Let's go!