The sublime and deeply therapeutic joys of karaoke

John Metcalfe, The Mercury News on

Published in Lifestyles

When Caitlin Bethune-Daniels met Chris Daniels on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, one of the ice-breaker facts she provided was that she’d won $500 in a karaoke competition singing Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love.”

“He saw my profile and said, ‘I could marry this woman’ out loud,” recalls Bethune-Daniels, a school teacher in Union City.

What followed was a karaoke courtship in which Bethune-Daniels tested Chris to see if he was suitable enough to visit her favorite haunt, 7 Bamboo Lounge in San Jose.

“When we first started dating, we went to the Red Stag (for karaoke), because I wasn’t quite sure if it was serious,” she said. “And you don’t bring someone to your karaoke bar until you know it’s for real.”

But it did get serious, and the two got married last year – another success story chalked up to karaoke. Today, you’ll find them singing classic R&B and power ballads at 7 Bamboo, one of the oldest karaoke lounges in the Bay Area. Their voices join in an ocean of crooning, wailing and belting that swells nightly from dance floors in places like the old-school Mel-O-Dee Cocktails in El Cerrito, Effie’s in Campbell, the Mint in San Francisco and dozens of celebrated others.

Some people might wave off karaoke as a silly hobby, something to liven up boozy birthday parties and lame company events. They couldn’t be more wrong.


“Karaoke brings people together in one forum where we all can just enjoy ourselves in this moment of music and laughter and happiness,” said Keefer Harness, a financial-services agent from Sacramento who sings at Mel-O-Dee. “That’s why it’s such a great phenomenon and art form. What else is more fun than going out, having a cocktail and listening to people singing? It’s the American way.”

Karaoke around here has launched careers. William Hung began his climb to “American Idol” fame as a civil-engineering student at UC Berkeley who loved singing karaoke – disastrously, but with bulletproof confidence. In 2004, he mangled Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” in front of a stadium of Golden State Warriors fans, wowing two of Chris Farley’s brothers in attendance. “She may bang,” they deemed, “but William rocked.”

Dedrick Weathersby is a Broadway star who has performed in “Dreamgirls” in San Francisco and recently toured the country with his own one-man show about James Brown. He’s now written another Broadway production about Little Richard, “Tutti Frutti,” premiering this winter in Dallas, and credits his success to singing at Mel-O-Dee Cocktails.

Weathersby would come in wearing a stylish wig and practice “I Feel Good” and “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” while drinking his favorite drink, water with no ice. “I was like, ‘Wow, they really like this … I actually can build a show around it!’” he says. “It was the welcoming experience of the Mel-O-Dee staff, the ownership and also the patrons that sparked the show that ended up with me being on a national tour.”


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