Three-minute stars: Karaoke brings out the best — and worst — in local vocals

Bartender Ashleigh Bryant puts her heart into Taylor Swift's 'White Horse' at the Captain's Cabin in Naples. Karaoke can give anyone at least three minutes of fame. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Bartender Ashleigh Bryant puts her heart into Taylor Swift's "White Horse" at the Captain's Cabin in Naples. Karaoke can give anyone at least three minutes of fame. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Some tasks are better left to professionals. Brain surgery, commercial aviation, and maintaining tropical fish tanks spring to mind.But singing? We are all born with the ability to vocalize, and often, the desire or even the need to share our vocalizations with others. Sometimes, singing in the shower just won't suffice.

Hence, karaoke.

Karaoke began in Japan in the 1970s and slowly spread all over the world.

In Naples, and throughout Southwest Florida, there are plenty of people with "Saturday night fever" — or Friday, or Thursday or Wednesday night fever. Karaoke is usually on the menu every night of the week.

These regulars, or karaoke junkies, return to their favorite karaoke bar time after time to put their name on the list, wait their turn, cue up their song of choice and have a few minutes of fame. Some performers are talented singers who love the chance to show off their vocal skills. Some are not.

The popularity of the form has endured despite the incontrovertible truth that karaoke encourages many people who should never get up in public and sing to do just that. It's no coincidence the venue for karaoke is almost invariably a bar, an establishment that earns its keep by selling alcohol.

Along with the run-of-the-bar singers who regularly butcher the classic rock oeuvre, though, some karaoke regulars stand out, performing renditions of standards that would not be out of place on an actual bandstand. Many of these are the karaoke DJs, who loved the activity enough to earn part or all of their living from it.

Whether they run the board for their fellow singers, or simply can be counted on to show up, each accomplished karaoke singer has his or her own secrets, tricks and ideas for how to put on a memorable performance; how to "sell" a song.

"Singing is an emotional release. Once someone figures that out, they become an addict," said DJ Hollie Brooks of Showtime Karaoke, running the show at the Captain's Cabin on Airport-Pulling Road on a recent Friday night. Asked to sing herself, she demurred, instead calling bartender Ashleigh Bryant to the stage.

Singing is an emotional release. Once someone figures that out, they become an addict"

DJ Hollie Brooks of Showtime Karaoke

Bryant gave a heartfelt rendition of Taylor Swift's "White Horse," and then sang a duet with Pat Holland on Kid Rock's and Sheryl Crow's "Picture." Bryant has one piece of the karaoke puzzle figured out — bring your friends. As the bartender, she definitely can count on having the crowd on her side.

There must be something to the "addiction" analogy for karaoke, at least according to Lucy Harris of Cape Coral. She is making a film on the subject, "The Secret Lives of Karaoke Junkies." With footage shot but editing yet to be completed, she called her project a "mockumentary," in the style of "The Office" or Christopher Guest films such as "This is Spinal Tap."

Too shy to sing? Not Harris.

"I like to think of myself as the queen of karaoke," she said. For years, she said, she and her crew would go out at least a couple of times a week to sing.

Choice of material is key, she said.

"You have to find a song people will have fun with. Something they've heard before — people like what they already know," she said. Personal favorites include "Cabaret" from the show of the same name, and songs by Janis Joplin such as "Piece of My Heart."

KARAOKE

Quality Inn Tiki Bar: 6 to 11 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 4100 Golden Gate Parkway, Golden Gate. 239-455-1010

Buffalo Chips: 8 to 11 p.m. Friday, 26620 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs. 239-947-1000

The Captain’s Cabin: 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, 3380 Mercantile Ave., Naples, 239-643-2608

More karaoke: Additional karaoke locations be found at GoNaples.com and at www.karaokejoints.com

Something else: Karaoke abounds in Southwest Florida, but venues and times can vary, so be sure to call ahead if it’s your first time at a new spot.

Karaoke is not her only forum for singing in front of people. The committed amateur actress has performed in "a lot of musicals," so Harris knows how to put a song over to an audience.

On a balmy and comfortable Saturday night, the poolside tiki bar at the Quality Inn in Golden Gate is jumping. Karaoke shares the stage — and the screens — with football.

When his turn comes to sing, Victor Forrester shows he is a confident veteran.

"Turn it up, honey, and give me a little reverb," he tells the DJ. Forrester launches into a note-perfect rendition of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds," and shows the difference between someone who is singing on a dare and someone who takes over the stage.

Forrester gestures, points to the audience, and — most important — knows his material. Unlike the vast majority of karaoke singers, he doesn't have to constantly watch the screen, where the words pop up and change color when it comes time to sing them.

"Karaoke is definitely an addiction," he said. "When I realized I could really do this, I went crazy." Now, Forrester said, he has 50 songs, and is hoping to find a band to sing with, and take his art to the next level.

Chip Greenwood, manager of the Buffalo Chips in Bonita Springs, spent years emceeing karaoke, and still takes a turn, along with his wife, Debbie.

"A good karaoke performance keeps everyone engaged, gets them clapping," he said. He shies away from karaoke contests, he said, wanting to make everyone feel like a winner.

Slow numbers have their place in the repertoire, too. At the Captain's Cabin, Jill Tyner turned in a soulful version of "Crazy," and at the Quality Inn, Seth Pearce filled the floor with couples slowly swaying in time to his rendition of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight."

While most karaoke careers begin and end at the amateur bar level, you never know. Casey Weston, who toured the country after her success on "The Voice," and is living in Nashville, working on making it in the music biz, got her start on karaoke nights, way before she was old enough to touch alcohol.

"You know she said that's where she first got encouraged that she could sing professionally?" said Showtime Karaoke's Hollie Brooks. "That was me."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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