Karaoke nights offer singing to beat the band

October 19, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Standing just behind the red, blue and yellow puddles of light on the tile floor, the tall guy with the Elvis haircut half closes his eyes and sings, "That's the wonder, the wonder of you . . . "

The slender woman with the expressive brown eyes has the crowd clapping along. She could be Donna Summer as she expresses the line "What a feeling!" from "Flashdance."

Then the stocky guy in the striped shirt steps to the microphone and the sound goes tough instead of sweet. This guy has the ability to turn "Yeeeaaahhhh" into a high-pitched scream that bounces off the black-painted ceiling and punches the listener in the diaphragm.

It's "Karaoke Night" at Tully's restaurant in Westminster's Cranberry Mall, one of two evenings a week when people who have always wanted to sing with the band can fulfill that dream.

Karaoke is a Japanese word meaning "empty orchestra." The band is on a disk with the voice of the lead vocalist erased so that anyone can become the lead vocalist and cash in on the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol suggested should be allotted to each of us. The lyrics show up on a television monitor in white letters, which turn yellow to guide the singers as they reach the line to be sung.

About the singers:

Kevin Michaels is not The King. He wasn't even born when Elvis floated "The Wonder of You" into the hearts of millions of American teen-agers. But the 22-year-old Westminster construction company owner has all of Elvis' albums and tapes, sings nothing else on the karaoke circuit and wants to "resurrect that very special thing that Elvis had."

Mr. Michaels was at Dean's Restaurant in Hampstead on a karaoke night when most of the crowd was too shy to get up and sing. So he did about 12 Elvis songs in a row.

He drove by the restaurant the next day and saw a sign in front that said, "Elvis Presley was here."

Mr. Michaels has cut a tape of songs he wrote, sung in The King's style, of course. A friend who helped him cut the tape is trying to market it for him. If it doesn't work out, he shrugs, "I'll be doing karaoke for a while."

Paula Berryman was in a singing and dancing group called Special Editions when she was a student at Franklin High School in Baltimore County. But that was eight years ago. Now she's a full-time homemaker and mother in Westminster, and she misses singing onstage.

Her son, 4, and daughter, 2, love to hear her sing, but karaoke provides a larger audience.

"It's excitement," she says. "It's very addictive once you do it."

Mike Royer, a Westminster resident and nurse's aide at Springfield Hospital Center, was out one night with friends who dared him to try karaoke. He did, "and everyone stood up and clapped."

"A lot of people sing slow," he says. "I get up with rock, and it blows them away."

He blows them away with "Welcome to the Jungle." "You're in the jungle, baby. You're gonna die."

And that scream: "Yeeeaaahhhh!"

Mr. Royer says he's had offers to sing with local bands, but his work schedule doesn't leave him the time. So he sings karaoke when he gets a chance, heavy metal, rock, just about anything but country or bluegrass.

One of Loretta Barnes' friends wrote her name in on a karaoke request form the first time she came to Tully's. She got up, didn't have a clue what to sing, but the emcee put something on and she sang it.

Now the Hanover, Pa., homemaker gets requests from friends, and she'll do "anything I think I can sing."

Jay Haines, a Westminster electrician, chose "The Gambler" for his solo karaoke debut and had the crowd singing along, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. . . . "

The atmosphere at Tully's is good, he says. Nobody gets booed.

That's what Frank Beccio intended. He emcees karaoke six nights a week for his sister Ann Beccio, a professional singer and founder of Annie's Karaoke Show. The show -- an emcee, mike, TV monitors and the black box with the computer hardware and the 1,400 songs -- plays Tully's on Sunday and Wednesday nights. It's also booked into restaurants in Severna Park, Catonsville, Hampstead, Sykesville, Ellicott City and Woodlawn.

"We do it for fun," Mr. Beccio says. He encourages applause for everyone who gives it a try, and he doesn't do contests.

First-time karaoke vocalists are "scared to make that walk" to the mike, he says, but after about five efforts, they relax, start moving with the music, entertaining the audience.

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