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Ryan Johnson, Published October 15 2013

Local pros share tips for first-time karaoke singers

WEST FARGO – The first time Jill Carlson tried karaoke, she thought she might pass out.

Carlson maintained consciousness, realizing screwing up isn’t the end of the world, the owner of Divas & Rockstars Karaoke Bar for the past six years said.

“Nobody really cares, and nobody’s there judging you,” she said. “They’re just there to have fun. If you mess up, you just keep going.”

Frank Collins suffered a serious case of stage fright when he first tried karaoke – despite decades of performing with bands since the age of 14.

“It takes a little bit of guts to actually go up there and sing,” said Collins, who now owns Karaokeman DJ.

Stage fright is understandable for first-time karaoke singers, but Carlson said it’s important to keep in mind they’re not getting paid for their performance, so they don’t need to live up to the professional musicians who originally recorded the song.

“It’s for the people that aren’t stars that just want to get up and sing and have fun,” she said.

But there are some tools to help participants sound their best, including the ability to quickly change the pitch to better suit their voice, said Collins, who oversees karaoke nights at Dempsey’s Public House and Rooters Bar, both in Fargo.

Carlson said she changes keys on the songs she sings to make it easier to hit the right notes, a trick that often goes unnoticed by the crowd.It can be easier for a first-timer to sing with a friend or two, taking some of the pressure off of their first karaoke performance, she said.

It also helps to pick a song they know well. That way, they can pay attention to the melody and timing of the song rather than trying to read every line of lyrics that scrolls on the screen in front of them, Carlson said.

Crowd favorites are also a good idea. There’s less pressure on an individual singer if the entire bar is singing the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” or “Piano Man,” she said.

No one expects a karaoke singer to be a professional, Carlson said. Still, it’s important to read the crowd, she said. No matter what they think, launching into a slow performance of “I Will Always Love You” will likely be a terrible idea in a bar packed with a young crowd in the mood to party on a Saturday night.

Karaoke is an “outlet” for many, a fun activity that they can look forward to as a stress reliever, Carlson said.

“You don’t have to be a superstar, and that’s kind of the whole idea behind it,” she said.

Collins said a little “liquid courage” at the bar before getting up on the stage can help settle a singer’s nerves – in moderation, of course.

But karaoke isn’t only for people with a great voice, and Collins said he’s watched nervous, shy singers blossom into karaoke stars as they gained confidence through their performances.

“I tell people that you do it for your own fun,” he said. “Who cares what anybody else thinks?”

Some karaoke regulars choose to always sing the same one or two songs, Collins said.

But he never gets tired of hearing yet another version of “Sweet Caroline” or “Friends in Low Places” because he views karaoke as a “traveling roadshow” of sorts: Much of the music is the same night after night, the crowd is always different and full of people who haven’t heard the regulars yet.

“It’s their five minutes to be a rock star,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587