date published: January 15, 2007

If you happen to be one of the millions of fans counting down the hours to the premiere of the 6th season of “American Idol,” January 16 is likely to find you glued to the TV screen. But if you share the deep-seated aspirations of this season’s contestants, why not seize your own three minutes of stardom by belting out your favorite tune at one of the city’s numerous karaoke destinations? Truth be told, even if your singing skills would rival William Hung’s, there’s no better entertainment than witnessing your best friend’s off-key rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl” in front of a bar full of drunken spectators.

The attraction of karaoke lies in its implication that anyone can be a star—regardless of their vocal propensities. And as more and more amateurs embrace the karaoke craze, they give rise to a form of entertainment that has little to do with the performer’s vocal talent.

“Even if you’re not a good singer, you can still be a good performer,” says Marti Speranza, the founder of Limelight Stage & Studios, a high-tech newcomer to Boston’s karaoke scene. After noting the popularity of studio-style karaoke while she lived in Tokyo and Singapore, Speranza returned to Boston with a vision of marrying the concepts of Eastern and Western-style karaoke. As one of only two karaoke-specific venues in the city (the other being DoReMi Music Studio in Allston, see sidebar), Limelight offers its patrons both the privacy of group room rentals and the thrill of the traditional, public single-stage ambience. A far cry from the DJ-operated karaoke jukeboxes of the 1980s, Limelight’s sophisticated touch screen system allows users to enhance their performance with audiovisual features like lighting control and real-time vocal processing.

Since its December 2005 opening, Limelight’s Tremont Street location has enjoyed widespread popularity. Boston mayor Thomas Menino picked Limelight as the venue for his 2006 holiday party. Busta Rhymes held his CD release party there. “We’re known as a unique Boston establishment,” says Speranza. “We draw everyone from college kids to young professionals to people celebrating their 50th birthday party.”

Indeed, Boston’s myriad of karaoke venues caters to all sorts of tastes. In the Theater District, a favorite post-performance haunt is the Playhouse Lounge. Hidden on the first floor of the Charles Playhouse, the lounge’s weekly karaoke is a popular Friday night destination for the local theater crowd. Stars from shows like Rent and Shear Madness are frequent visitors, and though it is rare, celebrities like Jason Biggs and Richard Dreyfuss have been knows to bless the Playhouse Lounge’s podium with their talents.

To a first-time karaoke singer, the Lounge’s patronage of seasoned performers may sound daunting, but according to Playhouse Lounge general manager Jason Reed, there’s no need to feel intimidated. “Compared to what I’ve seen elsewhere, the Lounge has a relaxing atmosphere,” Reed says. “First-time singers are always applauded and encouraged to perform, and women find it refreshing because it’s not a meat market like some of the other places.”

Like the Playhouse Lounge, the Tuesday night karaoke at the Milky Way Lounge and Lanes in Jamaica Plain draws a following of dedicated regulars. Started in 2001 by now legendary waitress/host Mary Mary, karaoke night at the Milky Way has since featured a number of hosts and concepts, but none have been more popular than the 3-year-old Live Band Karaoke. “I remember the first live band night we ever had—it was really, really awesome,” says Milky Way special events manager Miranda Webster.

Hosted every other Tuesday by the Nickel and Dime Band, this unique approach lends a rock-star aspect to the karaoke experience by complementing the performer’s vocals with live band accompaniment. “The band gets the crowd a little more involved,” Webster says. “It’s louder and livelier.”

As innovations like live rock band backups and futuristic audiovisuals enhance the karaoke experience, this already popular pastime is developing into a live entertainment phenomenon. Whether you’re a Fantasia-in-training or just out for a bit of fun, somewhere in this city lies a karaoke bar that fits your taste. So get out there and let your song be heard.

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