How to Do Karaoke If You Think You’re a Bad Singer

The gang is all going out to the bar for drinks and karaoke, and you’re hesitant. “Come on Gary, it’s going to be a blast!” your friends assure you. “No one here is a good singer; we’re just gonna go have a good time and make fools of ourselves!”

Gary has heard this line before. His friends reassure him that they’re not good singers, but he’s heard them sing, and every last one of them can carry a tune. In some instances, his friends are actually really good. His friend Timmy has received standing ovations and has women fawning over him whenever he sings “Baby Got Back”, and the dance floor frequently fills up when Boris does his George Strait performances. How comes everyone Gary knows is such a competent singer and has no problem getting up on stage in front of dozens of strangers?

Gary gives in and agrees to join Timmy and Boris at the bar for a night of debauchery. Timmy orders a bucket of domestic lagers for the group while Boris makes a beeline for the karaoke hostess to sign up for a song. Timmy, who is such a karaoke fiend that he actually has kept a running log of all of his performances since 2009 on a Google document, sits down to give Gary some tips at how to pull off a successful song.

  • What Gary doesn’t realize: the audience secretly wants you to suck. It’s true! They actually prefer it if you sound bad. It sets the bar lower for their performance.
    • This is exponentially the case if you’re good-looking to boot. A great singer with good looks is going to get all the ladies (or men) at a karaoke bar, making it much more difficult for everyone else hoping to find a match.
  • Your alcohol consumption is Step 1. Even just a beer or two will make you feel more relaxed and comfortable with the idea of going on-stage. Enough beer will make you feel more confident in your singing abilities, and mask mistakes.
  • Take things a step further and buy shots for the crowd. Now their ability to determine your singing ability has been slightly clouded as well!
  • When determining a song to choose, you might consider singing something that will cause the crowd to sing along and drown you out. Such sing-a-long favorites include “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, “Hotel California” by The Eagles, and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond.
  • You could also considering singing something obscure that only you know. Then no one will know if you nailed it or it totally sucked.
  • Choose a song that requires very little singing, such as “Lullaby” by Shawn Mullins, which is essentially just him talking in a monotonous voice, or “Mmm-mmm-mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies which is just a lot of humming.
  • Finally, for the singer who knows he’s not very good, you could choose to pick a song with a very long instrumental break, like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” by The Temptations, which begins with a 4:30 intro. This will a) cause people to tune out and b) obviously require less actual singing time.
  • You could also choose to just master a really fast tongue-twisting song, where people will be left impressed with your ability to spit out the words moreso than your ability to carry a tune. Such songs include Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” not to mention dozens of rap songs.
  • Choosing a song of the opposite gender is also a crowd-pleaser. Belting out a “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, or “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain in falsetto masks your own awful voice.
  • Sing duets. Find a female to carry you through a song like “Picture” by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, or Real McCoy’s “Another Night.”
  • If you must, go up as part of a group with other bad or nervous singers and everyone just belt out the words, holding the mic in front of your friends’ faces.
  • Pick your spot in line. Follow a known bad singer so the bar will be set lower, making you look decent by comparison.
  • Claim you have a sore throat when you get on-stage, tempering anyone’s expectations that you might possibly have been good.
  • If you really want to get out of singing but your friends won’t stop badgering you, tip the hostess to purposely “forget” to call your name!

With that in mind, the singing begins. Boris gets up and does his old standby “Amarillo By Morning” to much acclaim. Timmy throws a wild card and does a new song, “Kodachrome” by Simon & Garfunkel to wild cheers from the crowd. They each wind up singing three more times in the first hour alone, and have their noses buried in the karaoke book looking for their next number. Gary has seen enough singers to this point to know what he’s up against. He has even noted the different types of karaoke singers he’s observed.

  1. The actual really great, talented singer who could really make it in the music biz. Often spotted with friends recording their performance.
  2. The decent singer who is able to perfectly mimic a particular artist, but would struggle if asked to do anything different.
  3. The singer who thinks he’s way better than he really is and tips his way to the front of the queue.
  4. Very mediocre, average singer with some highlights and some struggles.
  5. The wildly drunken singer who’s constantly a full beat behind.
  6. Brutally terrible singer who may or may not realize his awfulness, but also has no shame.
  7. Singer who has very low expectations, thinks she is horrible, but winds up turning a few heads. May believe real positive feedback is B.S. “Wow, that was actually really good! You have a great voice! I’m not kidding!”
  8. And the extremely shy singer who’s way out of her comfort zone and is only up there to appease her friends. May not be fully audible. May even require a friend to come up and rescue her and take over the lead.

If Gary sounds like you, you’re definitely either #7 or #8. You’re shy and believe you have no talent, but you get up there anyway, which is what Gary is about to do. After several drinks and much procrastination, he’s chosen a fairly popular crowd-pleaser sing-a-long type of song, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield. The song has begun, and Gary is momentarily startled when he hears his own voice coming out of the sound system. But notices a few people singing along in the crowd, and by the time the chorus comes around, he finds himself grabbing the mic off the stand and really jamming out! He does a silly dance during a short instrumental break, but forgets to come back in when the song resumes and is momentarily a split-second behind. He recovers. When the song ends, he wipes sweat off his forehead, takes a little bow, and heads back to the table to a decent applause.

Timmy and Boris are quick to congratulate him and tell him “job well done!” A stranger passes by and gives him a pat on the back and a “nice job, dude!” Gary did it. The adrenaline rush has him ready for more. Unfortunately, since he waited until 10:20 to sign up, his likelihood of performing again is minimal.

So, you see, there’s no horrible outcome. You either get up there and sing and suck and everyone has forgotten about it a minute later, or you surprise everyone and sing competently, or even amazingly well.

My Hot Take:
Those who know me know I love karaoke. If I’m not found singing at The Common Interest in Austin, there’s a good bet I’m over at The Water Tank of Hanovers 2.0. It is my absolute favorite pastime. I am not remotely shy about getting on-stage, with or without a drink in me. I feel like I’m a decent singer; I usually get decent applause and a few congrats from the crowd. But the most important thing is it’s fun, and virtually all of my friends are fans of karaoke too. Like everyone, I have a few go-to’s, most notably “Hey Jealousy” by Gin Blossoms which I’ve done about 20 times in public, according to my log (yes that was me I was talking about with the running list on Google Drive).

If you’re afraid to take the stage at karaoke, consider alcohol or an easy song to alleviate the pressure.


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