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Karaoke fans dig deep when belting out tunes

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Her eyes were clenched tightly closed, but her heart lay wide open as she passionately belted out the 4 Non Blondes pop tune “What’s Up.”

Ninety minutes into a stream of amateur karaoke vocalists at The Garage Pub & Grill in Columbus, a full house clearly knew what was up.

Singer Donetta Shelton, that’s what.

She is a member of two Indianapolis area bandsand a woman with a vocal power worthy of Melissa Etheridge.

“I sing from right here,” Shelton said, patting the spot over her heart. “And this is my go-to song.”

Understandably so.

Shortly into her tune, a whole section of women at the closest table sat smiling and singing along.

And I say, hey hey hey hey, I said hey, what’s going on?

The pint-sized crooner is one among many area karaoke crazies, from their early 20s to mid-80s, in an “American Idol” culture unafraid of stepping right up to the microphone.

Especially after a few beers.

Ian Mengel, accustomed to singing at family gatherings, chuckled when asked about chasing away fear with beer after crooning a smooth rendition of The Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” at Columbus’ Cozy Lounge.

“There’s an inverse thing with drinking much before you sing,” Mengel said. “Sure, you often don’t sound as good. But you think you sound better.”

Watch people perform for more than just a few minutes and it becomes clear that singing in front of both friends and strangers is hardly a matter of hitting all the right notes or staying on key.

But vocalists hunker down anyway, trying to follow the lyrics flashing on a TV screen while a backing track plays.

Rovene Quigley readily acknowledged as much.

A song in your heart apparently matters more than the sweetness or smoothness in your voice.

“I’m no good,” she said with laugh. “But that doesn’t stop me.”

Earl Blue laughed over that assessment. But he agreed that most karaoke is more about simply sharing the love of music than loving the prowess of the person holding the mic.

“You definitely don’t have to be good,” Blue said. “Just willing.”

Yet, some are very good.

At The Garage, ex-bartender Allie Lindhorst regularly sang karaoke from behind the bar while mixing drinks on her shift.

Though it’s been several months since she worked there, regulars still talk about her tunes.

“People just seemed to get a huge kick out of it,” Lindhorst said, especially of her love of 1980s and ’90s selections from Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.

Other singers mention the strong sense of support they feel from the crowd.

On a recent Thursday, one could feel the crowd’s delight at The Garage when Nate Phillips moved humorously from table to table singing the whimsical Disney tune, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” from the movie “Mulan.”

Afterward, Phillips laughed when he got compliments — especially since he first sang the song publicly only two weeks before at his sister’s wedding reception.

“And I’ve had only one beer,” he said.

Loretta Huff has seen karaoke at nearly every nightspot offering it from North Vernon to Edinburgh in recent years. She has served as a KJ, the activity’s form of a DJ, during that period, too.

“It’s fun to watch those with a nice voice really nail it,” Huff said.

On Thursday, she watched male friend Terry Abbot sing Alanis Morissette tunes — so close to the originals that she was left trying to figure how he does it.

A few nights later, she listened as longtime pal “Karaoke Doug” Thompson crooned country tunes at The Cozy.

Thompson, a 20-year veteran of local karaoke, stood out not just for his vocal chops but also for the fact that he was the only performer to actually sit on the small stage in a sliver of a spotlight at the venue.

Every other vocalist either stood near their chair and sang or even sat huddled at the table in the dark so hidden that it was tough to tell who was performing.

“I don’t need to see the screen when I sing,” Thompson said, sitting a good distance from the lit lyrics of Billy Currington’s “Let Me Down Easy.” “But I love to entertain. And if the people are entertained, then I feel successful.”

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