I've been singing for years.Choir was my life in high school. I sing at home all the time; my friends have all heard me sing. But I do not do karaoke. Karaoke is for weeknight drunks and attention whores. Which…okay. Strike that. But standing on stage with little more than a tiny television — much less three rows of other singers and a polyester force field of matching Columbia-blue robes — to shield me from the cold stares and jeers of the audience? Not for me. I've done karaoke on only a few occasions, each with less-than-pleasant results. (The pinnacle: an outing with co-workers during a business trip a few years ago that ended in me singing Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" barefoot on a pool table.) Bonnie Raitt's always been my karaoke spirit animal, actually, for no better reason than I know the words, it's near the top of an alphabetical list, and I can usually commit to it and hand off the sign-up sheet before changing my mind. Despite my comfort with the song, after every turn on stage, I stumble out of the spotlight flushed with that classic mix of shame, horror and self-doubt. Gah. Somebody get me a Stella.
Fast-forward to today, when, as is always the case with my dubious decision-making… There's this boy. Sorry, a man. There's this man I've been seeing — a 6'4" hulk of a man with a voice like the Jolly Green Giant and a laugh that seizes his entire body, who shows apartments by day and makes funnies by night — who also hosts live band karaoke. Live band karaoke, which erases that small comfort of the tiny TV with the bouncing blue ball indicating how many bars remain until abject humiliation sets in. Real musicians who actually know what they're doing play each song like second nature, rocking out as the hapless singer fumbles through lyrics and searches for notes. Great idea. In this puppy-dogged honeymoon state where I'll do just about anything for a small opportunity to spend time with said man, I talked myself last week into dragging my allergy-ridden body down to the bar where he'd be posted up for the evening. And not just any bar: a bar in Lincoln Park. AND NOT JUST ANY BAR IN LINCOLN PARK. Uncle Fatty's. A rum bar. In the middle of Chicago. Located along a stretch of Sheffield that was embarrassingly deserted on a Wednesday night, there were about 10 people inside when I arrived, all finding their way to a level of drunkenness that could justify them being there. I ordered a beer and found a seat directly in front of the stage, where I watched two bands entertain themselves with short sets before the karaoke band took the stage. (I entertained myself with really, really mean tweets about the second band's lack of talent. I need to delete my account, or at least have my phone taken away when I enter a place like that.)
Determined to look brave and sexy and talented, I grabbed the sign-up sheet after my second beer and put myself down for Sara Bareilles' "Love Song." It was sassy and challenging. I knew the lyrics. It was in my range. Or so I thought.
Woof. Turns out many iPod sing-alongs do not an on-stage karaoke success make. I fumbled over the words, forgot the melody, forgot my name, etc. My karaoke flush was ten times more intense as I left the stage. I was met with pats on the back and a few variations on the half-hearted, "No, no! You did great!" But I wasn't sold. Live-band karaoke virgin no more, I wanted a damn rematch. So with itchy eyes, a runny nose and a body clock reeling from a 5:30 a.m. wake-up for spin class, I made the decision to sign up for another song and power through till the end. I scanned the list: mostly crappy '80s songs, metal, classic rock I couldn't swing — c'mon, the only Zeppelin you've got is "The Immigrant Song"? — and pop songs I wouldn't be caught dead singing. Then I stopped at "J" and thought back to the Pride Parade I went to with Doug, drinking pink wine until it was hard to stand and whaling on JET's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" into a little plastic microphone as the "band" behind me played along on toy drums and a guitar with multicolored buttons. If I could do it with Rock Band, I could do it here, with Real Band. Sign me up. I got up on stage again shortly after the band took a break, feeling a foreign sensation of… confidence. Tambourine. Bass. Drums. A familiar guitar riff, and suddenly I was off and screaming, practically on auto-pilot. Singing, dancing, rocking my hips to the beat. I nailed my entrances; I hit the high notes. I stuck the ending. There were people watching me, jumping around and singing along. I didn't care that they were drunk kids from DePaul with nothing better to do. I didn't care that I was on stage at a bar I swore I'd never set foot in. I felt like a star. A choirgirl turned rocker chick, even if only for four minutes. It felt so good to be that girl. And even more fun that the object of my puppy-dogging got to see that girl. Yeah, she's always in there, but it's been a while since she came out to play. It takes something pretty major. Maybe this can be it.