Inside D.C. entertainment

The art of upscale karaoke

October 21, 2011 - 09:27 AM
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When the W Hotel decided to add a monthly karaoke night to its rooftop events, it surveyed the region’s existing karaoke venues and found them wanting.

“I think we saw a void,” Kaitlyn Ferrara, marketing manager for the W, says over the thumping sounds of Beyonce on Thursday night. What was missing? “High-end karaoke.”

Upscale karaoke,” chimes in Jayne Sandman, consummate D.C. party planner. “It’s one of those uncool things that circles back to being cool.”

“Celebrities!” Ferrara now has to shout over the music. “Like Gwyneth Paltrow. Gwyneth sang karaoke for—who’d she sing it for?”

Prince Phillip,” Sandman says.

To bring more high-end, upscale polish to this activity of the stars, the W promises plenty of Top 40 song options and the presence of Tommy McFly, host of Fresh 94.7’s morning show.

Technical issues appear to be holding up the show—Tommy McFly is talking a lot to an equipment technician with a sweaty forehead—but no one here seems to mind. The rooftop teems with chattering women in straight-from-work pencil skirts and sharp dresses, juggling iPhones and martini glasses. Guys in ties line the bar, which glows in the dark room.

A blonde in a black brocade jacket sips a clear cocktail and says she can’t karaoke without a few drinks. I ask her what her standard number is.

“I need 1-2 drinks to dance and 5-10 drinks to karaoke,” she replies. I tell her I meant her standard song.

Another attendee, Tobi Thomas, has no reservations about performing in front of people. A former member of the U.S. Army and currently a pole dancing instructor, Thomas stands nearly six feet tall in her shimmering tunic, giraffe-print leggings, and towering boots. She swerves by herself in the middle of the room to a Britney tune.

Thomas typically karaokes at Jasper’s in Upper Marlboro but is happy to give the W a try. She praises the activity for bringing people out of their shells. “We don’t have a lot of people out and about, meeting and greeting,” she says, “because of the Internet.”

Meanwhile, the technical drama now sorted out, Tommy McFly takes the stage to introduce the evening’s first performer, a gentleman in a raspberry shirt. The crowd reacts politely to his bopping version of Cee Lo’s “Forget You,” along with the renditions of sorority-party classics “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” that follow. (The dream of Top 40 karaoke might be dead, but people are having a good time.)

And then it’s time for Tobi Thomas to take the mike. Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” begins to play.

“I’m getting tired of your shit,” Thomas croons, as the crowd comes to life. “You never buy me nothing.” Young women in sleeveless shift dresses and blazers bounce and sway to her singing. There’s no pole, but it feels instructive.

She finishes the number to thundering applause.

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