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Sound Bites: ‘Don’t be a Kanye’ and other pointers for a night out at St. Louis’ top karaoke spots

Jimmy Álvarez, Flickr, Creative Commons
Karaoke microphones.

You’ve been there: It’s late, you’ve waited hours to step up to the mic, you’ve reached the bottom of your soggy basket of fried pickles and the duo who thinks there’s a talent scout in the audience has gone up to sing “You’re the One That I Want” for the third time.  All you want is to humbly karaoke some Nelly, or possibly, some Alanis Morisette.  Will it ever happen?

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Annie Custer, Beth Heidrich and Catherine Klene.

We’re here to make sure this situation never happens to you when out for an enjoyable night of karaoke in St. Louis. The lovely folks at Sauce Magazine joined “Cityscape” on Friday to discuss the best places to belt it out in the region, where you can at least get some delicious snacks if there’s no standing O for your solo, and proper karaoke etiquette. First step?

“Don’t drop the mic. Don’t be a Kanye and drop the mic,” said Annie Custer, Sauce’s proclaimed ‘karaoke queen’ of St. Louis, who said it is also appropriate to tip the KJ, or Karaoke Jockey, who brings the equipment and must listen to some potentially awful tunes all night long. Don’t bogart the mic, don’t do a bunch of cliché songs, and don’t be mean are some of the other tips our panel suggested.

Catherine Klene, the managing editor of Sauce Magazine and Beth Heidrich, a contributing writer at Sauce Magazine, also joined this edition of “Sound Bites.” 

Here are the tips you need to have in your back pocket for a successful night of singing your heart out:

How did karaoke get its start?

Credit Jason Powers, Flickr, Creative Commons
A private karaoke room.

“Karaoke started in Japan around the ‘70s, basically it was a way for Japanese men to blow off some steam before going home. So, they’d leave work, go to these karaoke bars and there it’s private rooms. It’s just you, your friends or your coworkers having a couple of drinks and blowing off some steam with some singing. It sort of carried over into the U.S. in the ‘80s and ‘90s but rather than private rooms we tend to serenade the entire bar with our dulcet tones,” Klene said.

Where do you find the best karaoke in St. Louis?

You can take a look at some of the best spots for karaoke in Sauce Magazine’s current issue. The list includes standards like Double D karaoke but also a few you may not know, such as a karaoke place in a local grocery store.

“Karaoke is different  in different places in St. Louis. Obviously, the traditional American version is most popular where you have people singing at the bar, but there are more traditional Japanese karaoke bars like Koreana or Sushi House in Chesterfield, where they have private rooms you can rent with your friends and its by the hour and you can belt it out to your hearts’ content with your friends,” Klene said.

We want to know the dark horse contenders that you think are the best karaoke bars in the St. Louis region. Tweet us your favorites at @STLonAir, email us at talk@stlpublicradio.org or comment below this post.

Why is karaoke done in bars?

“Liquid courage,” was the unanimous answer from all three of our guests on “Cityscape.”

What is it about a karaoke bar that you should be looking for?

“The ambience and feeling of the crowd and vibing off the crowd,” Custer said. “You want to do a crowd-pleaser that people are going to sing back at you. And just get the crowd excited.”

You do need to look out for the type of song lists a karaoke place has to choose from. Some have more current songs and others have oldies-but-goodies. 

Credit Scott Beale / Laughing Squid, Flickr, Creative Commons
The song list.

“I know Sushi House has books in four languages, Korean, Japanese, Chinese or English and I know that appeals to some people,” Klene said.

Should the quality of food factor in?

“I generally think that you go to karaoke and food would be the second thing you look at,” Heidrich said. “You definitely aren’t going to a karaoke place for the food, but there are some places that stand out. Like Tom’s Bar and Grill, which has a truffle burger with a fried egg on top, which was amazing. We had an avocado and crab salad [at Sushi House] which was very good. At Viviano’s, you can go and buy a nice bottle of wine and share it with your friends while karaoking.”

I’m a karaoke newbie and skittish about singing in front of crowds. Do people get booed off stage?

“Well, that is part of karaoke etiquette, you should applaud everyone,” said Heidrich. “No one is bad in karaoke. The biggest rule is don’t be mean. I’ve never heard anyone booed. Generally, the crowd is excited for people to get up there and do what they want to do.”

Get there earlier rather than later, Heidrich said. “The sooner you get there to when karaoke starts, you’ll be able to get a good look at their list and figure out what might be right for you.”

What songs should you sing?

First off, “sing within your range,” Heidrich said. “Sing what you know,” Custer followed.

“‘I Will Always Love You,’ by Whitney Houston is not a great choice for everyone,” Klene said.

“You also want to read your audience, if everyone is having a good time, you don’t want to sing a ballad and bring everyone down,” Heidrich said. “You want to keep it fun.” 

Credit Aktiv I Oslo.no, Flickr, Creative Commons

Although the words come up on the screen at karaoke, Heidrich cautions that trying out rap and hip-hop unless you truly know the rhythm because it can be hard to stay on-beat.

While we’re at it: What’s your go-to karaoke song? Tweet us at @STLonAir.

“Sweet Caroline,” is particularly popular after midnight, Klene said. Custer said she flips back to classic rock, such as “Magic Man” and “Barracuda” by Heart. You need to prepare for songs with long breaks, Custer said. “You have to be careful up there during long instrumental breaks and do some air guitar, otherwise you’ll just be up there doing nothing,” Heidrich said.

BONUS: The St. Louis Public Radio singers take us out. 

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt. The show is sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.    

Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.