No two Karaoke experiences are alike. In the past week, I’ve been to three restaurant-based Karaoke gigs this week that couldn’t have been any more different. Each time, the venue and the DJ combined with a pretty sparse audience for a unique experience.


Dos Charros, Rowlett
(Pegasus News venue link)

Houston Stuckey of Two Hats Karaoke held a two-part Karaoke “Kontest” on Friday (I previewed it here). Karaoke started at 7, me and Bibi got there close to 8... and aside from a table of Houston’s long-time singers, that was it for the night.

The contests went on anyway, though. There were only seven singers, so we each sang two songs. There would be a couple of ways to do that — back to back, or round by round. Houston chose round by round, where all the singers sang their first song, then all the singers sang a second song. I think that way is best, because it keeps the audience (which is, of course, also the contestant pool) more involved in the show. I sang “Pretty Woman” and “Tragedy”, coming in second for $25. The first-place singer does an amazing Stevie Ray Vaughan, and was clearly the best singer of the night.

The next round was Kamikaze Karaoke. The original plan was to draw from one of three hats: ‘60s “oldies”, male Country, and female Country. But with only a handful of singers, Houston poured them all in the same hat — with marvelous results! One guy got Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” — I felt sorry for him, because that’s a long, slow song. I drew “Grandpa” by The Judds, which I was able to pull off pretty well in falsetto! After me came a lady who drew Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds”. I can’t remember what song the winner sang, unfortunately... but I do remember he did a great job of taking a female Country song and making it his in the funniest ways.

Houston wrapped it up right on time at 11pm. Dos Charros had said they’d be willing to go later if there were enough people drinking... but the Karaoke crowd didn’t reach that point.

And the truth is, there’s not much chance that Dos Charros will get the sort of crowd that makes a bar profitable until they figure out how to run a bar. They still don’t have a bartender, and if they did he or she wouldn’t have much to work with — their selection of alcohol was just as sparse as it was the first time I visited. But the food is excellent, and the waitresses are friendly and attentive. It’s a great place to eat and sing.


Joe’s Italian Cafe, Addison
joesitaliancafe.com
(Pegasus News venue link)

As soon as I saw Rick Stephens’ post on the Dallas Karaoke Facebook Group that he was hosting a 5pm-9pm Happy Hour Karaoke gig at Joe’s Italian in Addison, I knew I’d have to check it out. It’s a couple of miles from work, easily on the way home, and so early! I could stop by on Tuesday, or even squeeze a song in before going to choir on Wednesday, depending on the crowd.

Joe's Italian Cafe

If you look closely, you can tell it used to be a Bennigan’s.

That’s just what I tried this week, pulling in to the converted Bennigan’s space just after five. Rick was set up in a corner, crooning a ballad to an empty house, with the wait staff his only audience — and Joe, the cafe’s very hospitible owner. I sat down and ordered a Minestrone soup, which was delicious, and proceeded to sing four songs before heading out!

It may be premature to judge the “vibe” when there is literally nobody else singing but me and the DJ, but it’s pretty easy to tell that Rick Stephens knows how to run a professional Karaoke show. He’s got a full selection of songs, a great personality, and lots of stories to tell.

We talked about how Karaoke seems to bring out the friendly side of any crowd — even with all his bar gigs, he only sees maybe three fights a year (I only saw my first one recently, and it wasn’t all that bad). I also found out that Rick sings at Senior Centers during the day — what a sweet way to put the Karaoke equipment to good use!

Food and Karaoke

Delicious Minestrone soup, with Rick Stephens crooning “Michelle”, by The Beatles

I’ll go back to Joe’s Italian Cafe as often as I can. A round or two of Karaoke would be a great way to forget a stressful day at work, and I can hardly wait to see if their entrees are as delicious as their Minestrone soup. I’m pretty certain they will be.

After the jump: A bit of a mixed bag at La Paisanita in Dallas
Read more about Three in a Week: Dos Charros, Joe’s Italian Cafe, La Paisanita »

Just got this email from Two Hats Karaoke about an event happening tonight at their new gig at Dos Charros in Rowlett. It’s not one but TWO contests, back to back. The first is a traditional contest with cash (and headgear) prizes. But the second is something awesome: Kamikaze Karaoke! Read on for the details. I may have to declare a Karaoke night tonight!

Friday 06-15-2012

Two Hats will be having two separate Karaoke Kontests tonight at Dos Charros in Rowlett. Come out, bring your friends and let’s have a great evening of singing and fun.
Show hours are 7pm-11pm. (However — Jose [Manager] has agreed to stay open later if singers are buying drinks and having a good time. Kitchen will close at 10pm.)
1st Kontest starts at 9pm and entries must be submitted no later that 8:30pm. If you would like to pre-register — just reply to this email no later than 5pm. Any replies later that 5pm will not be registered because I will be dealing with show preparations. [Note: email address is hous...@yahoo.com, click the dots to get the full email address]

1st Prize — $50 Cash
2nd Prize — $25 Cash
3rd and 4th Prizes — Choose a Fedora from Houston’s collection.
No Duets
No Backup singers
Nobody will be allowed in the Kontest if not registered by 8:30pm
No more that 10 singers will be allowed to participate in this Kontest.
Winners determined by crowd response and secret judges.

2nd Contest — Kamikaze Karaoke — Starts at 10pm
Prize to be determined by number of entries. Each singer will pay a $5 entry fee. Winner takes the pot. Must be at least 5 entries for the Kontest to proceed.
There will be two hats to choose your song from. One hat will have Country songs and the other hat will have songs from the 60’s. Songs from the 60’s may contain songs from all genres. You will not know what song you have chosen until you step up to the microphone. Your song title wil appear on the scren and you will have 10 seconds before the song starts.

Just got an email from Houston Stuckey of Two Hats Karaoke, with a private Karaoke party deal at Dos Charros in Rowlett. This deal is comparable to what you’d pay for box-style private-room at a joint like Family Karaoke! Except that you get delicious Mexican food and a great DJ. If you’re planning a Karaoke party, this is a deal you can’t pass up.

Hey Guys,

We will now be at Dos Charros in Rowlett on Saturday for 4 hours. 6pm to 10pm. Hope to see you soon.

Also, I have talked to Jose (Manager) and he has agreed to provide a private party room for Karaoke on nights other than Saturday. The private room will be free of charge if you have at least 20 people in your party that are purchasing meals. Less than 20 people and the room rents for $150 for the evening. If you are interested, contact Cathy and I and we will make the arrangements for you. Our fee to provide Karaoke for your party will be $100 for 3 hours if you are a singer with us. As a bonus, if you sing with us at Dos Charros on the Saturday prior to your party, we will provide the 3 hours of Karaoke for $75.

Thanks for your support.
Houston and Cathy — Two Hats Karaoke

You can contact Two Hats Karaoke at their email address: hous...@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to check out my review of Karaoke at Dos Charros with Two Hats Karaoke, too, and see how much fun they’ll bring to your next party!

Dos Charros

Dos Charros — more than meets the eye!

Lately it seems like I’ve been harping on three things: Karaoke you can take the kids to, Karaoke that’s early enough that I can get to work the next day, and Karaoke in the booming Bishop Arts District in North Oak Cliff. Meatloaf sang “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad”, and he’s right — the great fun at Dos Charros (Early, Kid-friendly, in Rockwall) proved that. I’m happy to report that 303 Bar and Grill delivers another two out of three — it’s on Davis Street in Bishop Arts, and kids are officially allowed. And I’d say there’s an option on the third request!

Karaoke isn’t a complete stranger to Oak Cliff, but it hasn’t been a frequent visitor. There are a couple of dive bars (including Barbara’s Pavillion, which was a hoot), but nothing among the more upscale establishments that have turned North Oak Cliff into Dallas’ most vibrant (yet laid-back) entertainment and dining district. Eno’s Pizza had a well-received special Karaoke event, and I hoped it would turn into a regular gig — but no luck. There was an abortive attempt at Karaoke by Decanter, a wine-oriented restaurant in the district, but it was doomed by the same mismanagement that led to Decanter’s eventual closing for good.

Karaoke at 303 Bar and Grill, Oak Cliff

Yes, they misspelled “Karaoke”. But most joints won’t even spring for a sign, so I say cut 303 Bar and Grill a break.

So I was ecstatic when I heard that Totally Twisted Karaoke, the folks who introduced me to Karaoke, were coming to 303 Bar and Grill on Thursday nights. 303 is located just a block off of Bishop Street, at the corner of Davis and Madison. It’s a familiar spot for us — one of our favorite spots is Inforzato’s (Facebook link), on the opposite corner, with homemade Italian dishes and a signature dessert counter. There were only a couple of things working against the event. The biggest problem was the start time, with Karaoke set to begin at 10pm to compliment 303’s Late Night Happy Hour. The other was the reviews.

The online review scene turns every neighborhood into New York or Los Angeles, with a critic on every blog (including this one) comparing the new kid on the block with whatever their ultimate dining experience might be. The popularity and newness of Bishop Arts magnifies the effect. As a result, the reviews for 303 were mixed... well, no, that’s not true. The reviews were mediocre at best, and went downhill from there! But it seemed to me that the things they were being critiqued on were things I would consider “growing pains” — recipes still in the development stage, service that’s still learning the ropes. The funky decor, great location, and of course the Karaoke gave me hope that a visit to 303 would lead to a fun time. Spoiler alert: we had a great time!

After the jump: Sweet potato fries, Karaoke, and OMG!
Read more about Oak Cliff Karaoke — 303 Bar and Grill in Bishop Arts »

Houston Stuckey of Two Hats Karaoke sent me a note with a great explanation of his Karaoke sign-up board, in reply to my previous post about the first night at Dos Charros. He has graciously given me permission to reprint it here — thanks! It’s a great look at the inner workings of a quality Karaoke night.

Here’s a little more info about the sign up board.

While I understand the drawbacks to using a sign up board, I also see benefits. Especially for my regular singers who prefer this method as opposed to sign up slips. We started using the board at another venue where we had an average of 20 to 30 singers. We tried the board on a trial basis for a month and then took a survey from our regulars. The positive response for the board was almost unanimous. A lot of these singers were regulars at every show and others were sporadic in attendance. Regular singers are the bread and butter of the show and also tend to spend the most money at the venue (which makes the owner happy and keeps the host employed) Regulars often complained when a new singer would be placed in front of them in the rotation. After all, they had been there, drinking and eating since the start of the show. This was especially true with singers I call “show hoppers”. Hoppers come to the show, buy a beer, a coke or even a glass of water. They spend very little, sing once, and then take off to another venue and do the same thing. I’m sure you have seen this. Singers are allowed one song at a time on the board and are allowed to sign up as soon as they finish singing. They can see where they are in rotation all the time and don’t have to come up and ask me when they will sing or how many singers are on the list. If it’s a long list and they don’t want to wait, they will leave whether they see it on the board or if they see it on my computer screen. For me, the key to a long list of singers is to decrease time between singers so the rotation moves faster. I tend to announce “The list of singers is getting longer so I’m gonna get singers up faster. Please make sure you know where you are on the board and be ready to come up when you are called.”
Again, we appreciate you coming to the show and enjoy it when you sing.

Houston and Cathy – Two Hats Karaoke

Finding a kid-friendly Karaoke gig is not easy. Even the legendary Big Mama’s Karaoke Cafe — home of Chartbuster Karaoke — had to close down in 2011 after 11 years in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The problem is simple — a DJ’s time isn’t cheap, Karaoke discs aren’t free (or at least, they’re not supposed to be), and the best way to pay for Karaoke is to serve large amounts of alcohol to the singers and their fans.

A recent change in the Dallas-area restaurant landscape, though, may increase the number of Karaoke gigs without age restrictions. Over the past three years, there has been a wave of local-option elections. It started in the suburbs, as localities voted to allow liquor sales in restaurants without requiring wink-and-a-nod “private club memberships”. Then the city of Dallas, known for its patchwork of wet and dry neighborhoods, voted to make the whole city wet. Now, it’s the rare suburb that doesn’t allow alcohol sales in restaurants. The result has been an explosion of liquor license applications, as any restaurant that wants to pad its bottom line can add a mirror and some shelves of booze.

One place that is clearly just getting started in the booze game is Dos Charros, a Mexican restaurant in Rowlett, on the southwest corner of Rowlett Road and Lakeview Parkway (SH 66). Dos Charros occupies a large swath of a strip mall, so it’s divided up into four or five distinct rooms. The room in the back now sports a few tall chairs, a bar, and a gap-toothed selection of alcoholic beverages. The most distinctive feature is the stand-up freezer, full of wine glasses, tumblers, and beer steins. Everything’s better in a frosted glass, apparently!

Dos Charros Bar

Two Hats Karaoke set up at the end of the bar at Dos Charros, Rockwall.

Clearly, though, Dos Charros has built its reputation on its food. The menu isn’t large, which I take as a good sign — I’d much prefer a small selection of good food over a large selection of mediocrity. Their seafood listings were especially robust, and I’m sure I’ll sample something from that end of the menu on my next visit. This time, I just got a half-order of a Nachos, Beans, and Cheese appetizer. It looked delicious — even though I don’t actually like guacamole, sour cream, or tomatoes! The beans and cheese were very good, and my wife assures me that when we come here together, she’ll take care of the other ingredients.

Of course, I didn’t come for the food, or even for the new bar. I came for the Karaoke! Two Hats Karaoke (aka Houston and Cathy) are the DJs, and I’d been hoping to hit one of their Rowlett shows again. I first went to one of their shows at Amelia’s Cocina, where they replaced the DJ that was there for my previous visit. But Amelia’s remodeled and forgot to include a Karaoke area, so that option was gone. And their Thursday night gig at a Rockwall burger joint fell through, leading to a helpful but unfruitful discussion about teen-friendly Karaoke spot on the Dallas Karaoke Group on Facebook. When I got Two Hats’ email announcing their new Saturday evening early gig, 6–9:30pm at Dos Charros, I knew I wanted to be there for the first night.

After the jump: Lots of singing, not a lot of booze
Read more about Dos Charros, Rowlett: New Family Karaoke Spot »

It feels almost shameful to have enjoyed so much Karaoke without telling anyone about it! And it’s been on the most unlikely of days: Wednesday and Sunday nights. Rather than wait forever to write full stories, here are some quick notes from the past few months.

Agave, Rockwall Harbor

After having a great time at the inaugural Karaoke show at Agave, with Totally Twisted Karaoke’s Keith as DJ, it was great to see that they kept the show going even as summer changed to winter. When we returned, Karaoke was clearly a big part of the attraction, and the party atmosphere was overwhelming. There might even be such a thing as too much party — though that’s definitely in the eye of the beholder. On the Wednesday that we went, it wasn’t just busy, it was crazy.

Maybe it would have been different if it was just me and Bibi, but we brought our late-teen and adult children with us, expecting the more restrained atmosphere of the first time we went. It was nothing of the sort. The crowd was loud, and largely involved in their own discussions. Most of the Karaoke singers went virtually unnoticed, maybe because some of the patrons were worthy of their own reality shows. There was the Cougar, on the hunt, sporting a tattoo from her time as one of the American Gladiators. The boys in our group barely escaped with their lives. And then there was the Foursome... two male-female pairs who engaged in a conversational dance that was like a square dance, except that the dancers were within sweating distance, and grasping each others’ butts instead of daintily touching their hands.

Me and Bibi sang a Chicago song, which was barely even heard by the crowd. There was only way to get through to them: Disco. I got up and gave “Tragedy” the full treatment. That got their attention! I played it way over-the-top, and the crowd loved it. The reports from the family were that it was apparently the funniest thing the patrons had ever seen. I’ll take that as a compliment!

Shenaniganz, Rockwall

The next time we had a Wednesday free, we wanted to go sing with Delilah and her daughter Vanessa, as well as my daughter Samantha. But Agave wasn’t the sort of place we were wanting to go — we wanted to sing, not avoid grownups behaving badly. The best alternative seemed to be Shenaniganz (with a Z), an entertainment center on the far side of Rockwall. It has bowling, a large arcade (sadly, its DDR machine still has terrible pads), a restaurant, a bounce house coming soon, and the Z Lounge.

The Lounge is where Totally Twisted’s Robert O has their Karaoke show... which presented a bit of a problem. At 9pm, the lounge goes to 18-up, which means that Vanessa would only get an hour to sing. But she was out of school on Christmas break — and Samantha had just turned 18 — so we figured it would be worth going to check it out, even if it was a short night.

I hope I don’t get anyone in trouble by telling on them, but we were happily surprised — it wasn’t a short night. There were lots of little kids until well past the 9pm deadline, and even after they had to leave, nobody came around to check IDs. That could change next time, especially if this review jinxes it, so plan accordingly. Things may have been different because of one family, that had been caught in the New Mexico blizzards — their young daughter got special dispensation, which I think is perfectly fair given the circumstances! Whatever the reason, we were sure happy we didn’t get kicked out, and we showed our appreciation by our food and drink purchases!

The Karaoke took place on the bar side, and wasn’t disturbed at all by the free (!) bowling on the lounge’s dedicated lanes. There wasn’t a huge crowd, but there were plenty of singers queued up. Towards the end of the night, a dozen or so singers were judged by audience response in a contest that was laid-back and fun, with Robert O keeping things light.

I sang an REO Speedwagon song, “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, that Delilah said was the best song she’s heard me sing. But the highlight for me was when Barbara sang TTK DJ Leah’s parody version of “I Will Survive”. It’s a bit hard to describe, since this blog is targeted at a mixed audience... let’s just say it’s about a woman who is disappointed with the intimate dimensions of her man, but finds solace in merchandise commonly found at Sara’s Secret. One line goes, “As long as I have Duracell, my love life’s gonna thrive.” If you know what that means, then you will laugh your, um, tail off at this song!

The Stables, Kaufman County (near Forney)

Our family has horses at Palmerosa Ranch Stables, in rural southeast Mesquite. On the way to the feed store in Forney (aptly named Forney Feed), I couldn’t help but notice the sign at a little bar called The Stables (no website) near FM 740 and Interstate 20: “KARAOKE WED & SAT”. One Wednesday night, while Bibi was out of town, I put up the horses at their stables and headed over to check out the “other” Stables for myself.

When I walked in, I was a little bit concerned... the DJ was playing an in-betweener song, a rap that said something about “show your chest”. But I’ve learned from my daughters that there’s a large (if bizarre) overlap between fans of country and rap, and it’s definitely the case that every country bar that I’ve been to seems to play some rap number at some point in the night. At least it’s not Sinatra. One time, before the Dixie Chicks played a honky tonk in Oklahoma City, I had to sit through “New York, New York”. That was painful... a little bit of boob-grabbing rap is definitely more tolerable.

But when the Karaoke started back up, I was back home. The crowd was mostly 20 and 30-somethings, with a handful of older folks who had clearly been going to this bar for a long time.

The DJ was a fellow named Dudley Calhoun, and he had one one of the more unique Karaoke setups I’ve seen. His books, for one thing — the pages were laminated and printed on heavy card stock. They were about as drink-proof as you could possibly get! Probably a bit hard to keep updated, though. He also had a unique singer list. A monitor showed not just the singers in the queue, but also what songs they were going to sing. At first that seemed really strange... part of the fun is never knowing what’s going to come up next. But it could be really handy for figuring out what song would fit best with the night’s mood.

The coolest thing in Dudley’s Karaoke setup, though, was the old-style microphone. You know that big metal “can” style mike in that you see in front of Elvis and Johnny Cash when they’re in the studio? That’s what Dudley has. He has a handheld mike too, but I used the cool mike to sing “Love in the First Degree” by Alabama. I hardly ever sing with a stationary mike, so it was a good experience... it forced me to focus on the vocals instead of the other aspects of my “performance”.

Unfortunately, the club closes at midnight on Wednesdays, and I got in late after choir practice and stall cleaning. So I only got one song in. But I did have time to have one of the most unique Tequila Sunrises yet: shaken with ice instead of carefully layered. The mixing did wonders for the flavor... after all, who actually likes the taste of grenadine? Another nice surprise: the cocktail was just $4, and a Coke to follow it up was just a buck. Of course, I would have once requested a Dr Pepper, but that was before Dr Pepper’s corporate owners betrayed all Texans by forcing Dublin Dr Pepper to give up their beloved legacy.

In the song “Rocky Mountain High”, John Denver sings about “coming home to a place I’ve never been before”. In a way, that’s what the Texas Star was like. The very first joint where I sang Karaoke was a little dive called One Nostalgia Place, where the drinks were cheap and strong, everyone knew each other but welcomed a stranger with open arms, and where the Karaoke was just a bunch of friends singing to each other. Texas Star was just that sort of place. If One Nostalgia Place was my Karaoke graduation, then the Texas Star Club was my homecoming.

The Texas Star Club (on Facebook, no website) stands out, though, for its Karaoke-friendly setup. Although it looks like a tiny place, it’s actually quite spacious inside. There’s a well-stocked bar, of course, plus several pool tables, and the usual tiny bathrooms — is there some sort of city ordiance restricting sit-down toilets to no more than one, in any joint with a liquor license? And there’s no food, not even a pretense of burgers and cheese fries. That may be why there’s a required membership check before you can get in, and it’s 21-and-up, strictly enforced. I’m not up on the intricacies of the Texas liquor laws, but I’m pretty sure different rules apply if you serve food, and can at least pretend to be a bar and grill. Texas Star doesn’t pretend; it’s a bar, period.

The Texas Star Club

In the words of Sheryl Crow, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no country club either.

Not just any bar, though: the centerpiece of the club is the Karaoke stage. You don’t see it when you first walk in, past the membership desk. You walk in, sit down at the bar, and look back towards the front — and there’s the stage. It’s perfect for Karaoke, with a big dance area in front, and a chair and a table for you and your drink should either be in danger of spilling. And stairs right in the middle for those dramatic forays into the audience.

I visited on a Friday, which is one of the four nights a week presented by Phantom Cobra Karaoke (Facebook link): Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Interestingly, Wednesday is a night when Phantom Cobra is in two places — Texas Star and The Goat, another great place to perform Karaoke (or with your “real” band). Tuesdays and Thursdays are handled by “Mom & Pop Productions”, aka SingYourAssOff.com. Monday night is the only night that the Texas Star *doesn’t* have Karaoke — they make up for it with $2 longnecks and well drinks. But six days a week makes this little hole in the wall one of the very few places in Dallas that could actually call itself a “Karaoke Bar”.

After the jump: Challenges, a great time, a nice surprise. Also, I return to Paradise Burger Co.
Read more about Homecoming at Texas Star Club (plus bonus report from Paradise) »

Quick update: Texas Star turns out to be just as late as everyplace else, nominally starting at 9pm, and definitely not for kids. But it’s still awesome.

Karaoke is definitely a late-night activity, at least the way it’s done around here. It’s seen by bar owners as a way to induce patrons to imbibe larger quantities of “liquid courage”, so the typical hours are 9pm to 2am. The early Karaoke at Paradise Burger Company in Rockwall has been a big hit with families who want to put their kids to bed at a reasonable hour, and reasonable adults who want to put themselves to bed before the bars close. But with rumblings that Paradise’s Karaoke might end after the Rockwall Harbor concert series ends (a big mistake if they follow through with the threat), I wanted to find a new early midweek Karaoke.

So I went to the place that pointed me to my very first Karaoke bar, One Nostalgia Place, almost two years ago. But the site, dfwkaraoke.com, is suffering from the sort of link rot that is almost inevitable without constant pruning. Here’s a list of venues in central and east Dallas, and on through the eastern suburbs, that *don’t* have Karaoke on Thursdays (much less 8pm or before like their listings say):

  • Decanter Wine Bar, Oak Cliff. Went out of business shortly after shafting their Karaoke host.
  • Dos Banderas, Garland. Doesn’t do Karaoke any more.
  • Knox Street Pub, Uptown Dallas. No Karaoke, just a DJ on the weekends.
  • Scooters, Trinity Mills Rd. in far north Dallas. I work nearby, and saw the place close several months ago.

I did find one place, Tacos Y Salsas in Sachse (just past Firewheel)... but their early Karaoke is on Wednesday, not Thursday. Not helpful; that’s choir practice night.

Down in the T’s, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find anything. Terrell Bowling Center looked interesting, but my phone call went to an answering machine. I didn’t leave a message there; I left one on their Facebook page instead. I hope they’re better at visiting Facebook than I am!

By this point, I was really wishing I lived in Fort Worth. The site lists literally dozens of early evening Karaoke venues. I don’t have time to validate them — if I did, I could start my own index (and then watch it fall apart when I ran out of time). But if you’re lucky enough to live on the west side of the Metroplex, call around and you’ve got a good shot. Also, if you’re in Sherman/Denison, you can Karaoke at a Taco Cabana, and in Canton there’s a winery and tasting room where the Karaoke starts at 6:30. But I’m in Mesquite, and while the drive to Canton or the Red River is fun, it’s not happening on a Thursday night.

So when I saw a joint called “Texas Star”, at Ferguson Road and Gus Thomasson in East Dallas, I figured it would be more of the same. I tried to check the website and almost gave up, because the website was for the wrong Texas Star. (I submitted a correction to Google.) But I figured I’d call anyway... already late getting home, may as well.

To my great surprise, the phone picked up on the first or second ring. On the other end was a very friendly man, with the sort of voice that tells you he’s busy, but he’s happy to make time for you. I asked — tentatively — if he had Karaoke. Sure enough, he has Karaoke tonight... and every other night except Monday! And without any prompting, he named off the drink specials in effect tonight and most other nights. I’d have loved to talk longer, but I could tell he had a lot to do to get ready for the evening. They don’t have a website, just their DFWKaraoke.com listing, but Texas Star in East Dallas is absolutely on my list of Karaoke joints to visit ASAP.

But that wasn’t all. The guy at Texas Star specifically mentioned that tonight’s Karaoke was presented by “Mom & Pop Karaoke”. A quick Google search turned up their website: SingYourAssOff.com, with the disclaimer “Don’t let the name [Mom & Pop] fool you — we are Kick-Ass Karaoke!” And get this... all their Texas Star gigs are early, by Karaoke standards. Three nights a week at Texas Star: 8:30 Tuesday/Thursday, and an awesome 7:00pm show on Sunday night. Their Friday/Saturday gig in Rockwall (at a joint called The Scoreboard) isn’t too late, either: 8pm Friday, 9pm Saturday. I’ll send them an email to hopefully verify the times.

I guess the moral of the story is that looking for Karaoke is like singing a song like Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”. Sometimes, just when you think you’ve got things figured out, you get a kick in the pants that reminds you why you do it in the first place.

I don’t watch TV. When I was a teenager and left my parents’ home, I took a dozen towels, but a TV was the furthest thing from my mind. When a relative gave me a TV for Christmas, I used it to watch Texas Rangers games — with the TV sound turned off and the radio on. I follow the business of TV much more than the shows and celebrities. So I know why so-called “Reality TV” is so popular... it’s cheap and easy.

So when I heard that ABC was starting up something called “Karaoke Battle USA”, I felt both excitement... and fear. I love Karaoke, and seeing it get more exposure would be great. But the world of Reality TV is so far removed from real life. It’s full of made-up conflict between contestants chosen for their ability to carry the storyline, not for their ability to perform the “real” task before them. Their smiles are as fake as their silicone-enhanced breasts.

By contrast, I love Karaoke because it’s real... really real. Anyone can do it, even me, and there’s no place for chair-throwing, made-for-TV histrionics. Could ABC resist the temptation to turn their new Karaoke reality show into “Survivor: Karaoke”?

The answer... was a resounding “Yes”.

I won’t go into a play-by-play of the Karaoke contestants — you can get that at this TV blogger’s review of the show. I wasn’t really that concerned about winners and losers anyway. I wanted to see if the Karaoke would be the star, and it was.

ABC did an excellent job of combining human-interest background stories with actual performances. The pieces weren’t schmaltzy and tear-jerking, and they didn’t have that terrible mood music that tells you how you’re supposed to feel. Rather, the music behind the between-performance bits was itself Karaoke music, which kept the mood consistent through the two-hour show.

The judges are a big part of the action, of course — that’s been true since The Gong Show and before. ABC did a good job of mixing styles, by choosing an industry insider (Joe Levy), a singer whose songs make good Karaoke (Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips), and a past winner of a nationwide Karaoke contest (Brian “Cowboy” Scott). The MC, who actually got relatively little face time, was Joey Fatone, whose picture once adorned every teenage girl’s wall when he was in N*SYNC. Wilson played the diva, with the two other judges relegated to more of a supporting role. But the combination worked, and the producers did great at balancing the judges’ shots with the rest of the show’s content.

The Karaoke, though, was the focus of the show. It was clear that each singer had really spent time on the Karaoke stage, and you could easily build as much of a personal connection with the singer as you could in any Karaoke bar. Even more amazing was that they were able to keep that feeling while shortening the songs by at least two thirds! I’m sure each singer originally sang the full version of each song, but the edited presentation was seamless and unnoticeable unless you were singing along. I’m sure a lot of us were, but anyone who’s waited for their turn after “Sweet Child of Mine” knows the pain of waiting. ABC absolutely made the right choice, and did it well.

Probably one of the best things ABC did is to partner with Karaoke World Championships USA, one of the very few outfits that has successfully managed to organize a nationwide, multi-venue Karaoke contest. Remember when that one outfit was going to have a big contest in Dallas that never materialized? Near as I can tell, they were paying their previous winners from the next city’s venue fees, which was a recipe for disaster. KWCUSA seems to have the business sense to do it right, and the Karaoke sense to do it fun. By hooking up with KWCUSA, ABC avoided looking silly. I recently watched the movie “Duets”, which was supposedly about Karaoke contests but was clearly written by someone who had never attended one. “Karaoke Battle USA” could have made a similar mistake, but didn’t fall into the trap.

The scoring is interesting. There are five separate categories, some of which conflict with each other — a singer who sings right on pitch won’t get many points for originality. This works well, though, because there are many styles of Karaoke, and the goal is to find the most entertaining singer — a subjective judgement.

I liked the final round process, too: the top two male performers had a sing-off, as did the top two female performers. I’ve often wondered what I would do if I made it to a second round, so it was great to see these performers make their choices. Interestingly, both winners chose not to change their style — they brought the same act to a different song with easy confidence. Both losers, by contrast, made a change. The guy toned down the performance aspect, while the lady cranked her “Diva” mode up to 11. Both of them should have just been themselves, and that’s a lesson I’ll take to the Karaoke stage with me.

I’ll also take a song. I hope that I’ll hear a song each week that inspires me to add it to my to-do list. Last week’s addition is “Alone”, by Heart, from the mid-80s. It was the one that Cory sang in the final round when he decided to just focus on the vocals. He ended up making it “pretty”, but I’ve always seen that song as one of desperate desire: “And now it chills me to the bone, how do I get you alone?” It’ll take some quality time with iTunes, but I want to see what I can do with the song.

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