There are certain things in life you can't control: growing old, embarrassing yourself at holiday parties, kissing all the wrong people, ordering three éclairs at Tartine and pretending that two are for friends, and karaoke. Sure, you might not have any musical ability or rhythm or a thirst for the spotlight, but your time on the karaoke stage will come. One of your friends will get engaged and want to have a last boozy hurrah singing Journey songs en masse. Same goes for birthday parties, bat mitzvah after parties, and those work outings meant for getting to "really know each other." Point is, unless you want to be a terrible friend or lose your job, there will come a time when you will have to listen to friends butcher songs for a few hours so you might as well be ready for this inevitability. Luckily for you, I'm here to give you a few pointers so you won't embarrass yourself too much and maybe come out of this not only unscathed but with a winning musical number under your belt.
1. THOU SHALL NOT ABSTAIN
If your friend is marrying some dude and invites you to karaoke in order to celebrate a lifetime of spooning and arguing over what kind of take-out to order, you kind of have to go. Yes, even if the guy she's marrying is the worst. You might think that showing up is all that is required of you. WRONG. Absolutely no one likes the person who shows up and then says something meek like "Oh, I can't go up there. I can't sing! But I'll watch you guys!" Sure, no one will point a gun to your head and force you to sing a Natalie Imbruglia song, but they will make a little mental note about you and file it away in the deepest most immutable part of memory. That note says "So and so is a no-fun bore. No wonder he/she doesn't have a boyfriend/girlfriend." You don't want to be that person, do you? So down your favorite mixed drink and do a vocal exercise in the bathroom if you must 'cause you are going up there one way or another.
2. THOU SHALL NOT DRINK TOO MUCH
I did say have a drink, but don't over do it. This will lead to your downfall and your dignity will be a more distant memory than that friend you had in preschool who moved away. Getting wasted will impair your judgment (you'll end up picking a song you have no business singing) and, although you will think your voice sounds like honey or Whitney Houston pre-crack/Bobby Brown, your vocal ability will be a mess. So take it easy. This is not freshman year of college.
3. THOU SHALL NOT JUDGE, LEST YE BE JUDGED
A majority of the karaoke experience is waiting for your turn. For impatient people like me, this can be an ordeal, especially if you have to sit through messy performances from people who haven't followed Commandment #2. But I warn you not to roll your eyes or make snide comments or talk loudly over their numbers. These people are your future audience and you need to be in their good graces for when it's your turn. So pay it forward: smile, applaud, woot and holler cause karma takes names.
4. THOU SHALL NOT SING WHITNEY OR MARIAH OR ADELE
I know you want to. I do too! But you shouldn't, unless you're opera trained or something. Take it from someone who learned this lesson the hard way. I had one Fernet too many (I'm not perfect!) and I decided it would be a hoot to sing Mariah's "Fantasy." Face flushed and a sloppy grin on my face, I leapt on stage and heard those opening chords and instantly knew I had made a big mistake. I looked at the crowd and actually said "Oh. No." That was a hard 4 minutes for everyone involved and we all learned a valuable lesson so that you wouldn't have to.
5. THOU SHALL NEVER GIVE UP
Even if you have an experience like the one described above, you are not allowed to give up. No one likes a quitter. Don't be a baby. Face the music. The best strategy to take the focus off your terrible rendition is the art of distraction. Make a joke out of it. Dance. Offer the mic to someone standing close to the stage for a line or two. And if it really comes to it, enlist a friend or two to help out. It's part of the friend code, after all.