If someone utters the word “karaoke,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Corny? Dated? Embarrassing? Or just plain unadulterated fun?

If you’ve ever been to a spot where karaoke was featured, you probably have some idea of how seriously some people take it. Those with actual singing talent use their three minutes on the mike to fantasize about what could’ve been, if they’d ever gotten signed. Those are the regulars. They sing at the same spots, week after week, and have an imported cheering section. But the majority of other karaokers are just out for a good time. Drunkards use the mike as an excuse to act out in public. Pranksters usher their shy friends to the mike to break them out of their shell. And some folks just really, really like the Sugar Hill Gang.

When karaoke first hit the U.S. scene in the 1990s, everyone thought it was just a fad. It would fade into obscurity as quickly as Betamax. But over twenty years later, people are still hitting the karaoke spots with friends and fam on Friday nights. Themed spots that feature one genre of music–say R&B or hip-hop–keep the format fresh, and depending on who you take with you, the experience can be brand new each time you go.

Karaoke is also kept alive through parties and special occasions. When my father married, he and his new bride offered karaoke at their reception as a way to bridge both sides of the family. It worked! We spent five hours jamming out to everything from Jimmy Buffett and Nancy Sinatra to James Brown and Destiny’s Child. It was an activity that transcended race, gender, class, and age in a way that few others could have.

Do you karaoke? How often do you participate? Are you the shy type who has to be dragged to the mike or the A Star is Born type who relishes the applause?

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