Crazy for karaoke

February 03, 2005|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Paul Foltz might be a security guard by day, but every night he picks up a microphone to belt out oldies tunes at karaoke clubs throughout the Tri-State area.

He's one of many amateur vocalists who've kept karaoke - a form of entertainment for which a novice singer accompanies recorded music - on the nightclub charts since the pastime started about 20 years ago in Japan. Foltz, 24, of Hagerstown, said he sings along to music by The Drifters, The Temptations and other oldies bands at karaoke gatherings seven nights a week. He said he scheduled his job at Hagerstown's Valley Mall around his karaoke habit, and bought a costly home karaoke system to hone his vocal skills before standing in front of the karaoke crowds.

"I just love to sing. When I go to karaoke, I forget about my worries," said Foltz, who belted out Dion's "Runaround Sue" during a recent Thursday karaoke night at Replays Sports Bar at Four Points Sheraton on Dual Highway. Jennie Ricker, 24, of Hagers-town, got the crowd stomping their feet to her rendition of Trick Pony's "Pour Me."


Though she was so nervous the first time she picked up the karaoke mic that she didn't turn it on, loan support specialist and part-time bartender Gina Oreamuno, 41, of Hagerstown, said she now sings at karaoke - usually with a friend by her side and a few drinks under her belt - a few nights a week. Dwayne Hawley, owner of Quatro Studios in downtown Hagerstown, said there's nothing he'd rather do than perform for a crowd.

"It's just a fun outlet for me. My favorite thing in the world is getting up there," said Hawley, 42, a state finalist in the Colgate Country Showdown.

Karaoke junkies

"There's a lot of karaoke junkies out there. You wouldn't believe the amount of people who come out to karaoke contests," said Duane Bartles of Hagerstown, owner of DVK Entertainment at www.dvk on the Web. "It doesn't matter if you're a professional singer or a shower singer, it's just fun."

He updates the company's karaoke songbook monthly, adding new favorite tunes to a karaoke library that includes more than 12,000 songs. Bartles said radio hits garner the most karaoke requests, seasonal tunes always are popular, country songs are the easiest to sing, and patriotic numbers skyrocketed in popularity after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I guess karaoke does kind of reflect the times," said Bartles, who created a custom karaoke sound system to make singers sound their best.

He added karaoke to his company's entertainment offerings in the mid-1990s - a time he called the "heyday" of the pastime in the Tri-State area. Scott Lowry, DVK Entertainment karaoke host at Four Points Sheraton, said he thinks the popularity of TV shows "American Idol" and "Nashville Star" has given karaoke a boost. The shows feature vocalists of all ability levels competing for lucrative recording contracts.

"Karaoke seemed to be dying off a little before those shows, but it's come back," said Lowry, 30, of Hagerstown, who met "Nashville Star" finalists while recording a karaoke CD in Nashville, Tenn.

Karaoke for cash

John Ambrose and Allen Hewett, owners of Stinger's Sports Pub & Grill in Boonsboro, have invented their own version of "American Idol" for the local crowd. The pair's 10-week "Stinger's Idol" karaoke contest boasts a $1,000 grand prize.

"Karaoke seems to be a big thing in this area," Ambrose said. "We wanted to do something a little different than everybody else's karaoke."

Ambrose said about 15 vocalists competed in the first competition Thursday, Jan. 27. The contest starts at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, and contestants ages 21 and older can enter weekly for $5 per song. Judges choose three finalists each week, and the top 30 singers will vie for the grand prize March 31. For detailed information, check out Stinger's Web site at

Ed Snodderly, food and beverage director at Four Points Sheraton, started karaoke at the hotel's lounge about five years ago because customers expressed an interest, he said. It took some time - and three karaoke disc jockeys - for the pastime to attract a regular following, Snodderly said. Attendance now ranges from about 35 karaoke fans ages 21 and older on a slow night to more than 100 people on a busy evening, he said.

"It's been going very, very well," Snodderly said. "We're glad we did it."

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