By Amber Williams
Rasmussen sings a Red Hot Chili Peppers
song at Jeannie’s Bottle. Photo by Amber
Learn why and where central Iowans
mic up for karaoke
Karaoke night can get kind of hairy at times
— at Jeannie’s Bottle that applies to the dudes’
faces, but at some bars in the metro, hairy
means catty, salty and maybe a tad trailer park.
“Girl, you better get up off my stage,” said
Cherese Schirck as she all but belly-bumped
an intruding “used-to-be bestie,” Pammi Aldrich
off the platform at Trophy’s. “Nobody sings
‘Shoop’ like I sing ‘Shoop.’ Nobody. I know
all the words. I don’t even need the monitor.”
“Everybody knows all the words to that song.
It’s been around forever,” Aldrich snapped back,
rolling her eyes and resigning back to her bar
stool. Squinting through her ultra-blue eye
shadow and glitter, Alrich watched sharply as
her once best friend busted out Salt-n-Pepa’s
1993 hit “Shoop” — her song, her “go-to song”…
Well, one of them, anyway.
Pammi Aldrich says she loves letting karaoke
“B its L on (her) Ts.” (If you don’t know what
she means, nevermind.) Her partners in karaoke
crime are Ninja-Mary Bonstetter and Chelea Gamble,
(who claims she invented karaoke). As a trio,
they are a force of karaoke cool — at least
they think so, and they couldn’t care less if
others disagree… although, they’re certain others
“I’m an attention whore — especially if I’m
drunk,” Aldrich admitted. “I love to rock out
and hang out with my friends, and people have
to either leave or stay and watch me be awesome.”
People decided to stay last Wednesday as Aldrich
performed Eminem’s “Real Slim Shady,” staying
on cue with the lyrics like a pro despite a
stage-hording Schirck who no longer needed the
mic to be heard. It was an impressive rendition,
though obviously well-rehearsed. Of the three,
Aldrich admits Gamble and Bonstetter are very
good singers while she’s only “OK, kind of.”
That’s why she brings the hip-hop to the group,
picking up the rapping portions of the songs
the way Left Eye would contribute her “crazy”
to the ’90s all-female R&B band TLC.
When the three get together, they fit into Spice
Girls, Destiny’s Child or TLC’s “Crazy Sexy
Cool” songs with ease: Aldrich certifiably brings
the “Crazy,” Bonstetter undoubtedly the “Sexy”
and Gamble most definitely the “Cool.” Aldrich
said they get together and bless karaoke bars,
such as Heroes, Catoor’s on Grand and Z’s Bar
and Grill with their performances at least twice
“Put the three of us together and that equals:
best karaoke singers ever,” Aldrich bragged.
But, not if you ask Schirck. The west side bartender
claims she is in the top rung of the karaoke
ladder as well as many of her guests during
karaoke night at Maddy’s Again. And last week,
her surly, unsteady delivery of “Shoop” didn’t
cause a stampede for the door by any means.
“When people come into Maddy’s on Friday night,
they all want to know if I’ve sang ‘Shoop’ yet,”
Schirck said. “I bring everyone from Des Moines
out to West Des Moines, and I make Maddy’s Again
party. Anybody who comes to Maddy’s has a great
Whether the singer is a dolled-up diva, a delusional
drunk or a bored bartender, having a great time
is the name of the game. One of the city’s hottest
karaoke spots, tucked away in a hidden parking
lot off Merle Hay Road, is Jeannie’s Bottle,
where Gamble works as a karaoke DJ on Tuesday
and Friday nights. While it’s known among girls-night-out
crowds as a great place to raise your voice,
it’s also known for having some of the best
vocal talents in town in a laid back, no judgment
“I know it sounds weird, but karaoke is the
only thing that really makes me happy,” Gamble
said. “Most people like to karaoke because they’re
good at it, but I like to karaoke because it’s
fun, and I’m good at having fun. If you want
to see pure entertainment, go to Jeannie’s Bottle
when Johnny, Josh and I are working. It’s awesome.”
At Jeannie’s the bartenders are the karaoke
DJs and often the singers, too. “It’s all part
of the job,” according to DJ Squatcheezy (a.k.a.
DJ Zasquatch, a.k.a. Zach Garwick) and DJ Whole
Milk (a.k.a. Josh Hemann), who not only sang
a song by The Darkness last Tuesday night but
also “Prince Ali” from the Walt Disney “Aladdin”
soundtrack before busting out a Red Hot Chili
Peppers duet with Jeannie’s son, Johnny Rasmussen.
They were clowning around, no doubt, but at
least they could carry a tune. Not the case
for “the butcher,” Erik Johnson.
“I’m notoriously bad,” he admitted. “The songs
that tend to suit me more are the ones where
there’s not a lot of vocal skills required.
Punk songs go pretty good. They’re not exactly
the most talented vocally. I can be off key
and scratchy or just yell into the mic, and
it’s going to sound decent.”
However, decent isn’t really the word Johnson,
his girlfriend or any of his friends would use
to describe his attempts at Marvin Gaye and
Michael Jackson, or the song “Total Eclipse
of the Heart,” which is what he was attempting
the night he earned his nickname. He realizes
he’s probably so horrible because he doesn’t
take it seriously… at all. He’s never sang a
song more than once, which means often he finds
himself singing songs to which he doesn’t even
know the melody or the words.
“Lots of times, I have no idea of rhythm or
tempo or anything like that, and it usually
fails horribly,” he admitted. “I know I’m not
good, but I kind of like seeing other people’s
reactions — whether they’re cringing or laughing
— the bigger reaction the better.”
But why does someone who sings so badly still
enjoy doing it? Usually people enjoy doing things
beause they’re good at them. For Johnson, neither
skill nor talent is a requirement for fun.
“It’s one of those things. I’m a fun guy who
likes to have fun. It doesn’t matter to me if
people think it’s bad. I have fun doing it,
and I like doing it,” he said. “I’m not out
there looking for my big break. I just want
to have a fun evening.”
But some are looking for that big break — or
at least living the pipe dream they’ve harbored
since childhood of someday becoming a famous
rock star. Those are often the folks found singing
with karaoke live bands such as Party! Party!
and Wilder Side Band… or at Billy Joe’s Lounge
competing in Karaoke Idol, a local karaoke version
of the hit reality show “American Idol,” where
singers are eliminated by a panel of judges
until only three top winners remain.
Karaoke Idol is held every Tuesday night from
7-10 p.m. Contestants are allowed a warm-up
song at 7 p.m. before a judged performance at
8 p.m. Auditions started on May 15, drawing
about 10 people every night and passing only
an average of four to the semi-finals per week.
Of the 13 winners that have been chosen so far,
Billy Joe’s loyal Doug McGhee was one of them.
“My wife made me,” he laughed. “She always makes
me do the contests. It’s not about the money
with my wife. She knows I like to sing, so she
always makes me do it. I auditioned a couple
weeks ago. There was a lot of competition, about12
people, and five of us made it.”
McGhee won the judges’ favors with “Look What
the Cat Dragged In,” by Poison.
“I work in IT (information technology) all week,
so it’s a lot of numbers and stuff like that,”
McGhee said. “It’s kind of nice to get the other
side of the brain going.”
Bonstetter was also passed through by judges
in hopes to win more than $2,000 in prizes at
Billy Joe’s at the end of the summer. This is
Billy Joe’s inaugural year for Karaoke Idol,
and participation levels prove karaoke is here
to stay in Des Moines.
A similar contest has established success in
Altoona already, as Prairie Meadows Race Track
and Casino enters into another year of the Big
Country Showdown Karaoke Contest.
Prairie Meadows is offering more than $6,500
in total prizes to contestants. The second day
of semifinals is coming up on Tuesday, June
12 at the Finish Line Lounge inside the casino,
followed by the finals on June 19, where Des
Moines’ biggest country voice will earn someone
a $2,500 grand prize.
A not so ‘empty orchestra’
As it’s grown in popularity around the world,
karaoke continues to appeal to participants
of all ages, genders and backgrounds. Local
karaoke DJs agree that an average of 30 different
people get behind the mic each night, and when
considering the number of bars that host karaoke
every evening, that amounts to hundreds of people
nightly in the metro, somewhat to the dismay
of local musicians.
“If you mention karaoke to a musician, it makes
him want to throw up,” admitted Wilder Side
Band drummer Kurt Bowermaster. “Karaoke put
a lot of bands out of work, because it’s cheaper
for the bar owners. So, there are a lot of hard
But rather than take it personally, acts like
the Wilder Side Band and Party! Party! embraced
it — even capitalized on it. About a year ago,
members from each band came across live karaoke
bands in other cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee.
And, coincidentally, they returned to Des Moines
with the same idea.
“The guys from Wilder Side came to our first
gig at People’s and got up and sang with us,”
said Party! Party! member Nick Borror. “Then
they introduced themselves and told us they
had the same idea,” but while Wilder Side Band
moved to karaoke in order to keep playing shows.
Borror said they did it as a way to “involve
an audience more than just being a cover band.”
“Karaoke was a bull’s eye,” he said. “Live band
karaoke is a bull’s eye more so than regular
karaoke. Some people do it just to get drunk
and have fun, but some people are serious about
it. Those are the people who have dreams — aspiration
of being an ‘American Idol’ or a front man in
a band. And it’s a bull’s eye for us, as a live
band, because we actually provide that experience
Karaoke entrepreneurs such as Sarah Nemitz,
who owns The Voice Box, have taken that dream
and that experience even further — beyond the
temporary high of singing in front of friends
with a band for one night. The Voice Box offers
the opportunity to record karaoke stylings professionally.
“The Voice Box is a full-scale entertainment
company, including a recording studio, karaoke,
DJ and a live band (Time Well Wasted),” said
Nemitz, who is the vocalist for the band. “We
record anyone and everyone. They can use a karaoke
track, or we’ve had people bring their guitars
and record that and do the overlay of the vocals
(for the serious musician). We’ve had a lot
of people come in and make a five- or six-song
demo CD or a one-time Valentine’s Day recording,
Despite the fact that she also fronts a band
and has family roots in music that stretch all
the way to Nashville, Tenn., Nemitz holds no
anomisity for the karaoke varieties out there.
“I really love karaoke,” she said. “I’ve been
doing it forever. It gives people the opportunity
to feel like they’re following their dreams.
If you’re a great singer, you’re a great singer,
and you don’t have to be in a band. Sometimes
singing is the talent, and this gives those
people an outlet.”
In Japanese, the word karaoke is literally translated
“empty orchestra.” But, here, perhaps it should
be defined as “The American Dream.” With diversities
such as live karaoke bands and recordings popping
up right here in Des Moines, could it be possible
that the dream has an avenue to become reality?
It’s a dream. It’s a game of pretend. It’s a
nostalgic musical appreciation. Often, karaoke
is an attitude. Other times, it’s an abomination.
Adored by some, abhorred by others, both acknowledge
it takes a lot of confidence (or a lot of alcohol)
for the average person to do what others need
no magic of intoxication to enjoy.
Divas or clowns, confidence is something most
karaoke singers have in spades. And with the
recent addition of live band karaoke alternatives
and recording opportunities, who knows? Maybe
someday a typical night of belting out “Bootylicious”
at Heroes might lead to a big break for the
Crazy, Sexy, Cool trio.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be Vanna White
when I grew up, then Whitney Houston, and then
just a rock star,” Aldrich laughed. “I pointlessly
memorize a ridiculous amount of songs. My brain
is full of useless knowledge, and most of them
are song lyrics. So this is a chance for me
to use it.” CV
A glossary of karaoke terminology
Accompanist: One who always has to play an
instrument (i.e. harmonica), bang on the table
or clap along during someone’s song.
Arhythmia Idiotica: The one guy who always
claps out of rhythm.
Auditory Delusion: When someone actually thinks
that cupping his hand over one ear makes him
Bathroom Break (a.k.a. Smoke Break): A song
that makes a customer(s) head to the bathroom
or outside — anywhere that is far from the stage
— regardless of how well it’s performed.
Bohemia Nervosa: The irresistible urge to head
bang like Wayne and Garth in the instrumental
break of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Boogie Compulsion: A disorder that compels
otherwise conservative people to stampede blindly
to the dance floor when someone sings “Play
That Funky Music.”
Cave Dweller: Someone who wraps her hand around
the mic, thinking it looks cool, completely
unaware that it makes her voice sound like she’s
Clappus Alonus: Only one person claps.
Clappus Falsalarmus: Accidentally clapping
for the dance music. This is usually paired
with Clappus Alonus and quickly followed by
Clappus Interuptus: Clapping, then suddenly
stopping when you realize the song isn’t over.
Courtesy Clap: Applause that only happens because
the audience is glad the song is over.
The Clap: A good reason to wear condoms after
a night of drunken karaoke leads to sex with
Dorkapella: Someone who continues to sing even
after the song is over and refuses to stop until
the next singer takes the mic away.
Double Take: A singer who always misses the
first part of the song and the host has to start
Draft Card: A request slip filled out for someone
without his or her permission.
Fire Drill: Any song that causes a large group
of people to head for the nearest exit and line
Germicrophobia: The fear of catching something
from the last singer by using the same microphone,
resulting in the singer trying any of a dozen
discrete ways to wipe off the mic.
Ghost Singer: A person who puts in a song,
promptly disappears until after his name is
called, then mysteriously reappears.
Hit and Run: Someone who hangs around just
long enough to sing, then vaporizes without
Homicide: When a singer performs a song she’s
never attempted before knowing it will be bad.
Karachokie: Attempting a song and blowing it
Karadultery: Singing a duet with one person
and leaving the bar with another.
Karaglyphics: Illegible scribblings on a song
Karamnesia: A singer turns in a song choice,
then five minutes later, returns to ask which
song they picked.
Karamputee: Someone who’s been cut out of the
rotation for one reason or another.
Karamuck: The unidentifiable substance between
the pages in a songbook that causes them to
Karandrogynous: Singing the male and female
parts to a song.
Karanoid: A condition which makes a singer
go up every three minutes to ask when he’s up.
Karaoke: What pall bearers do at a funeral
Karaoke Terrorist: Drafting another person
to sing without his or her knowledge.
Karaokephobia: When someone is so scared to
sing, she pushes the book as if it were an odious
thing that will metaphysically transport them
onto stage if she opens it.
Karaophie: That annoying kid who bellows into
the mic while adoring parents look on, and the
rest of the place holds its ears.
Martinesque: Singing while drinking.
Milli Vanilli: A singer that goes up with another
person, but won’t take the microphone and just
stands there lip-syncing.
Overmodulator: A singer who screams into the
mic for every song, so even a Mariah Carey song
sounds like Megadeth.
Premature Evacuation: When the singer quits
and goes and sits down during the song.
Special Request: The most common excuse a host
uses to inject himself into a 50-person rotation
to sing for an unidentified person.
Suicide: When a singer performs a song he has
never sang before.
Tap Dancer: Someone who didn’t make it to the
bathroom before her song came up.
Titleist: Someone who claims to be the king
or queen of karaoke but ends up sounding like
Typhoid Kary: Someone who sings with a communicable
See more at www.austinsings/karonics.html