January 22, 2016


Duets: Introducing Our New Karaoke Advice Column!

Tony Barson/Getty Images for Clear Channel
Tony Barson/Getty Images for Clear Channel

A few years and many songs ago, I wrote a karaoke advice column called Feedback

Turns out, karaoke is not a fad and we’re bringing Feedback...back. This time, it’s called Duets, and you can find it at Fuse.tv! 

There are just so many more karaoke questions to be answered! This week we tackle unexpected on-stage instruments and Mariah Carey. And we provide a playlist for those eager to sing something new (and properly vetted by karaoke veterans). 

Send your karaoke queries to karaokeconfessional@gmail.com.

There is a regular at my regular who brings a harmonica on stage with him, which ordinarily could go badly, but he really only pulls it out to augment boring voiceless parts of "Piano Man" and other George Thorogood songs which actually call for a harmonica.  Personally I think this is douchey – but acceptable – behavior.  If there's a harmonica in the original arrangement, fine, bring a harmonica.

HOWEVER, tonight, someone brought an acoustic guitar and plugged it into the soundboard and played it while their friend sang.  Some folky thing, I didn't know the song (it sounded like 10,000 Maniacs or something similar).

I find this an utter violation of the spirit of karaoke, literally "Empty Orchestra".  While they sounded really good, and clearly they had been prepping for such a performance, it's KARAOKE night, not open mic night.  This is a total karaoke foul, yes, to bring a separate instrument (and performer) and to plug it into the soundboard?

Thanks for your insight,

Excuse me if I’m a bit rusty—it’s been a bit since I’ve given karaoke advice. If someone, as you describe, brought a ‘live’ harmonica on stage to accompany them in a song that featured a harmonica, I would probably go nuts, in a good way. Even if they didn’t even play the damn thing, just mimed like they were—like a dad at a Bar Mitzvah with a blow-up saxophone—I would go nuts. (Even if the song didn’t have harmonica, I would probably still go nuts.) There’s something about miming instrumentation that charms me. What can I say?

But if someone got on stage, plugged in their instrument (or even went acoustic!) and actually played the damn song? That’s not karaoke: That’s an Open Mic Night. And if I wanted to attend an Open Mic Night, I would head on down to the Kibitz Room, order myself some potato latkes and sit through the Tori Amos covers. But I didn’t! I came to sing karaoke and hear others do the same. I came for the dulcet sounds of MIDI backing, not your rendition of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – no matter how good your Dylan impression may be. You could actually be Bob Dylan, for all I care: I still came for karaoke. 

You’re right to be offended. No self-respecting KJ (“Karaoke Jockey”) should allow this. Report them immediately (to the KJ Association, if that indeed exists. It should.).

I am an avid Mariah singer and have no problem hitting the high notes... It’s the low ones I can't pull off. My favorite album is The Emancipation Of Mimi and it's full of whisper-y, sexy things I can't handle. My tone is perfect Mariah BUT these parts (that are numerous or high on runs); hell, I can even get the fast almost rapped parts!

Breaking the situation into categories:

Fair: “It's Like That”, “We Belong Together”, “Stay The Night”, “Say Something”
Bad: “Shake it Off”, “Fly Like a Bird”, “To The Floor”
Very Bad: “One and Only” (parts I and II)

What do you think? Run after run also gets me exhausted by the end and wanting to go to bed. I don't feel sexy at all and it's frustrating. I don't think Mariah would approve.

Thanks in advance,
Miss P

You’ve proven yourself the Ultimate Mariah Fan – I can’t imagine you even wanting to attempt “One and Only,” let alone the rest of Emancipation. These are Hard Songs. It’s true that Mariah’s pitch-perfect high notes aren’t what makes her songs difficult – it’s the speed and, as you note, the “whisper-y, sexy” things difficult to replicate on the mic.

I think you’re in luck, because it just so happens that your “Fair” category contains almost all the best songs on Emancipation, so let’s just stick with that, shall we? “We Belong Together” is a crowd-pleaser (I trust you have the cadence down) and “It’s Like That” has that ultra-singable chorus (and Jermaine Dupri). Let’s say you grab “Shake It Off” from “Bad” – what to do those difficult, whisper-y refrains? Make your friends sing ‘em! Your own chorus of background singers, just like Mariah. Pass that baton. If you can ace those loquacious verses, you’re gonna blow everyone away. 

One more thing: Mariah would 100 percent approve of you not being able to sing her songs. There’s only one Mariah and she’s keeping it that way.

PLAYLIST: New-ish Songs That Are Feedback-Tested & Karaoke-Approved

You’re gonna find these on those extra pages shoved into the front of the song binder -– maybe they’ll even be in their own book, or a make-shift pamphlet of sorts. That’s how you know they’re hot off the presses. And don’t be scared to really go for it! Make Justin Bieber proud. (But don’t sing “Sorry”. That song is deceptively difficult.) 

Disclosure & Lorde, “Magnets”

Confirmed by a trustworthy source (and appreciated by Lorde herself!), this banger is also a good karaoke decision. 

Adele, “Hello”

If you can even remotely pull this off, you’ll have the bar shouting for an encore. 

The Weeknd, “The Hills”

I don’t even like The Weeknd, but a friend chose to attempt “The Hills” in a small karaoke room a few week ago, he immediately had the six of us singing along. Turns out this bummer-of-a-chorus is actually quite fun to shriek - especially when you get to F-word. 

Drake, “Hotline Bling”

Strike while the iron’s relevant! 

Lee Brice, “Parking Lot Party”

People who don’t know this song will 100 percent know it by the time you’re done singing it. 

Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds”

I feel like this song can finally get the respect it deserves through karaoke. It’s great. 

Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds”

I feel like this song can finally get the respect it deserves through karaoke. It’s great. 

Rachel Platten, "Fight Song"

This is your fight song. Impress your bar song

Nick Jonas, “Jealous”

Slightly old by this point, but still kills. I guarantee it.

Alessia Cara, “Here”

Make sure you know this one well before attempting – it’s got a tough cadence, so you can’t just get away with a simple sightread. Practice! It’ll be worth it. 

Carly Rae Jepsen, “Boy Problems”

To be fair, I merely dream of singing this in karaoke. So if your joint happens to have it on their list, shoot me an email. Please. 

Lindsey Weber is a Los Angeles-based writer and karaoke professional. Email your karaoke questions to karaokeconfessional@gmail.com!