Admit it: Adulthood is a lot harder than you imagined. I don't know about you, but my 6-year-old self assumed that I'd be an international pop star by now. And although I'm blessed with a fulfilling career that allows me to take selfies and put hashtags in my headlines, part of me still can't satisfy that urge to sing my heart out — and I know you feel it, too.
What's holding you back? Can't sing? Stage fright? Not good enough. Anyone — even you — can give a killer karaoke performance. Fortunately, Connecticut has tons of places to sharpen your singing skills and to build your confidence.
Tisane in Hartford has a small but open dining area tucked away from the bar that is transformed on Thursday nights at 10 into a singer's dimly lit playground. And it's a good place to start because it's free. Jessica Berube, a Hartt School of Music graduate who now works as a voice teacher and substitute music teacher, describes herself as a regular karaoke singer and audience member.
"I went, saw how people of every ability just sang and had a good time," she says, "and no one really cared. You just cheer them on, and it's fun."
Because Berube is a trained opera singer with a powerful soprano voice, she has felt pressure to give amazing performances of pop songs that don't necessarily fit her vocal style.
"My insecurity stemmed from feeling like the expectations would be higher for me even though there are no Italian arias offered in karaoke."
But when she and her boyfriend, Alex Surprenant, sang Evanescence's "Wake Me Up Inside," one had to wonder what she ever worried about.
Surprenant, who studies engineering at UConn, has performed in choirs as a child and enjoys being a part of the karaoke scene: "I really do miss performing in front of crowds. Plus, everyone is drunk and not very judgy."
With those first-time jitters conquered, it's time to graduate to bigger bars. Karaoke Heroes in New Haven is a comic-book superhero-themed destination for some of New Haven's most passionate performers, a Fortress of Songitude, if you will.
"Karaoke and superheroes go hand in hand because when you sing in front of a really enthusiastic crowd you almost feel like you're a superhero," says general manager Megan Boudreau.
The story of Karaoke Heroes (open nightly Tuesday through Sunday) begins with Andrew Lebwohl, who was a lawyer in New York when he decided he wanted to change careers. He then attended Yale School of Management, where he came up with the concept for his bar. This place is dedicated to its theme: comic-strip art on the walls, employees wearing Superman shirts (complete with capes), and cocktails with names like "telekenesis."
"What Karaoke Heroes provides is a very safe and enjoyable environment to explore music," says bartender (and Clark Kent doppleganger) Paul Falzone. "It's about music and performance and not taking it so seriously."
Like Boudreau, Falzone is a trained vocalist. Both insist that a musical background is not a requirement to sing or work at Karaoke Heroes — but the fact that so many musically inclined people gravitate here make for some fantastic performances.
"I naturally enjoy performing," says Ray Zhou, a repeat customer who will receive his masters and artist diploma in classical guitar from Yale University this spring. "And sometimes the thrill of receiving praise for a performance that was something other than guitar is even more exciting."
And Zhou, who effortlessly serenaded a roomful of drinkers with a Michael Buble song, says he's become more outgoing since he gave karaoke a try.
The main bar and seating area has plenty of TVs, so you have to option to sing in the middle of the room or from the comfort of your barstool, and there are two private party rooms. Every cocktail earns you one song, or pay $2 per song.
The song list is a binder full of thousands of songs, and the staff can search online for the karaoke version of almost any song you want to sing. This venue's superpower is also its weakness — don't spend too much time flipping through the extensive song list. Decide quickly because 1.) You might wait for an hour on a busy night for your turn; and 2.) They stop accepting song slips around 1 a.m.
Now that you're a seasoned karaoke vet, it's time for the main stage at La Boca in Middletown, where once a month, for no charge, you can sing with Bandwith Karaoke — a live cover band just waiting for you to step in as lead singer.
"It's about as much fun as you can have singing songs," says bass player James Parent. The song selection isn't as large as your normal karaoke night, but the thrill of being with the band is like nothing else.
"Feeling empowered and like a rock star for two to four minutes — it's an amazing experience," says Jamie Wallace, who has been coming to Bandwith shows since the band's beginning four years ago. "You connect with the music."
"It helps if you know the song really well," says Parent. "We don't have the scrolling lyrics like normal karaoke, so you're sort of on your own."
But don't worry; no one will let you crash and burn. If you're floundering, the band is quick to sing along with you to help you get back on track.
"It's different than karaoke, but karaoke people, they really dig it." (Bandwith is currently on hiatus because its guitarist is unavailable. Check its Facebook page for updates. La Boca also features regular karaoke on Sunday nights at 9:30.)
Sure, everyone says it's all about having fun, but at the end of the day, everyone wants to impress. So what's the secret to totally slaying?
"Upbeat songs and '90s anthems are always a hit" says Berube. "Throw in some Spice Girls and everyone scream-sings and it's a lot of fun."
"You can tell the people who come up full of confidence," says Parent. "They're usually great."
But as long as you love the song, you can't go wrong.
"People get excited when people are really enthusiastic," say Boudreau. "People work the crowd [at Karaoke Heroes]. When it gets busy people go up to strangers and sing at them and everyone dances together…there's really no wrong or right way to do it."
WHEN & WHERE
La Boca, 337 Main St., Middletown. Every Sunday at 9:30 p.m. Free. 860-347-4777 and labocaonmain.com.
Tisane Euro-Asian Café , 537 Farmington Ave. Hartford. Thursdays at 10 p.m. Free. 860-523-5417 and mytisane.com
Karaoke Heroes, 212 Crown St., New Haven. Open at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. $2 per song, or one song with each cocktail purchased. 203-848-8854 and karaokeheroes.net.
You can find more places to do karaoke at ctnow.com/karaoke/events.