Club Nights

Midtown Beat/Armidas

Club Scout has a dream.

One day I will be on stage, my right hand holding a mike and the left shading my eyes from the dizzying glare of the spotlight, and I will belt out such a triumphant cover of "Midnight Rider" that the entire bar will burst into deafening applause.

In my dreams.

But until my big break (or until I hit puberty and my voice changes), I'll have to just clap and watch -- bitterly -- as others rise to karaoke fame.

"There's an etiquette to it," explains my friend John Mullins, who is extraordinarily adept at mimicking the Gavin Rossdale croak when he sings. "If you're good, you have to cheer on the other singers. The DJ watches you, and if you're pompous, then he won't call your name."

We are at Midtown Beat (formerly the Deadbeat Club, at 4040 East Evans Avenue) on a slow Thursday evening. The spacious three-story, multi-room nightclub bumps dance music most of the time, but during the week it attempts to reel in the kids with some old-fashioned, tone-deaf amateur singing. This is College Night -- although most of the people in the sparse crowd look too old to have cracked open any textbooks lately -- and the back room has been set up with a big screen, a microphone and a DJ with books of CDs. Song requests are as varied as the boozing customers -- everything from country ballads to smooth R&B to alt-rock hits to bad hair-metal numbers. But no matter how off-key or painfully screechy a singer is, everyone hoots and hollers just the same.

Still on a karaoke binge, we next head to Armida's (840 Lincoln Street). The inconspicuous neighborhood spot -- which specializes in Mexican food and karaoke seven days a week -- is less than half full, but the place is as loud as on a Saturday night. And it feels like one, too.

Armida's exists in the bizarro karaoke dimension that transforms housewives into Mariah Carey and working stiffs into Enrique Iglesias. The tiny stage is bathed in colored light (controlled by little knobs at the DJ booth), and a mini electric disco ball rotates blinding white spots around the entire room. Small cliques of friends sipping Tecate gather around thick plastic binders, scanning the innumerable pages of artist names, writing down karaoke requests on squares of paper. Some look nervous, but for others this is clearly old hat.

Mullins definitely belongs to the latter group. He's already done a killer version of the Killers' "Mr. Brightside" and is eagerly looking through the songbook for his next hit single. He's undecided between Eagle Eye Cherry or Soul Asylum.

Me? I already know what song I'd be doing.

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Tuyet Nguyen