“Don’t sing ‘I Will Always Love You’ if you can’t hit those notes,” said Garvaundo Hamilton, 33, who won the Karaoke World Championships in 2020. Just because you like a song doesn’t mean you have to sing it. Many classic songs should probably be avoided unless you’re a trained singer with an extensive range – including all of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Journey and Queen, most notably “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If you want to sound good, he also recommends being careful when trying “rap that’s really too fast for you.” Hamilton, a general manager of a Seattle printing house, goes karaoke almost every night of the week. He spends at least four hours a day singing to himself in the car, in the shower, at his desk and wherever he can. Use a karaoke app on your phone to practice. Hamilton keeps a list of go-to songs on his phone, divided into several categories, including up-tempo, ballads, and duets. His favorite is Alexandra Burke’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Karaoke doesn’t require you to have all the lyrics by heart, but it helps if you’ve practiced a song until you can confidently sing it. Given the choice, Hamilton avoids private karaoke rooms and instead opts for the public bar style where your audience includes strangers. If you’re shy or planning to sing something new, alcohol can sometimes ease the nerves. Don’t overdo it and choose a room temperature drink. “Cold drinks aren’t good for your throat,” Hamilton says. You don’t have to be a great singer, but your skill level should be a consideration when choosing what to sing. An upbeat party song that prompts a sing-along can be a good option for so-so singers who struggle to carry a song on their own.
Karaoke varies by geography. Hamilton started out as a teenager in Jamaica where, in his experience, the public tolerated only experienced singers. “They’ll boo you, they’ll stop you, they’ll kick you off the stage,” he says. Hamilton has found that some cities have more skilled singers (New York, Atlanta) and some lean more toward tone-deaf drunks (Los Angeles, Chicago). But for the most part, your fellow karaoke-goers are looking for joy and liberation; expect to be supported as long as you make a genuine effort. “Most people are there to sing, not judge,” Hamilton says.