the following is a repost of an article which appeared in the March 20 issue of the Columbus Dispatch and also appeared online at

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Flashing lights pulsated, and gray mist billowed from a fog machine - dramatics perfectly suited to Carlo Pittaluga and his spoken-word interlude in the 1984 Prince hit Let's Go Crazy:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today To get through this thing called life.

With the music pumping loudly, a sizable crowd at the Summit danced and cheered as if the flailing 24-year-old himself had turned into the eccentric Purple Rain star.

A nonstop parade of amateur vocalists followed his lead for hours on a recent Friday night - until almost 3 a.m. Saturday - while tackling tunes spanning Rod Stewart to Lady Gaga with varying talent and zeal.

Disc jockey Dave Casto kept spirits high, praising each performance and making banter with singers on deck ("Do you want a lot of fog - or an insane amount of fog?").

Part of a new party on the last Friday of the month in the North Side rock club, the elaborate event - complete with smoke, mirror balls and a 12-foot strobe-and-laser lighting tower - illustrates the evolution of the central Ohio karaoke scene.

The dusty pastime for last-call dwellers and aging lounge lizards has been transformed into a lively, interactive singalong, driven in part by thrill seekers who prefer their leisure activities as a two-way street.

"I could just go to a bar with friends," said Pittaluga, who lives near Victorian Village. "But this is something extra."

Among the contenders:

• A Monday-night event Downtown at Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace dubbed "dirtyoke," with host Collin Clemons providing a trunk of wigs and costumes to enhance vocal selections.

• A seven-week competition conducted on Thursdays at the Worst Bar in Columbus that awards $300 prizes for the top male and female singers. A new round will start April1 at the Northwest Side venue.

• A "punk-rock karaoke" event at the Short North bar Circus that attracts a diverse crowd on Mondays. (It's not Top 40-free, owner Ron Ringle said, but an "unwritten rule" keeps set lists heavy with Poison and Motley Crue.) Host Adrian Spillman also throws monthly themed events there with singers dressing as superheroes or dead celebrities.

• The Columbus trio Fonzie Monroe, most recently a staple at the Ohio State University-area bar Ugly Tuna Saloona, allows fame-seekers to take on live-band tunes ranging from Big & Rich to Billy Joel. The group is on the hunt for a new venue.

• An island-themed luau - part dance party, part karaoke jam - that made its debut last month at the Ravari Room north of OSU. (To ensure stage time, patrons can RSVP their

song choices via www.tiki

The crowds skew young.

Some play in bands or have obvious backgrounds in choir or theater. Others could use a few pointers or the voice-altering help of Auto-Tune (Casto, jokingly, has provided that with an iPhone application).

Most, though, are simply accustomed to interactive, group-based diversions that range from shredding with Guitar Hero to Tweeting during a live event - being a part of the action, not a spectator.

"It's the Facebook of entertainment," said Casto, a 39-year-old whose full-time Excesss Karaoke venture, with help from an assistant, operates seven nights a week at area bars.

"It's gone from the back of a Japanese restaurant to something that's a lot more social and youth-oriented. Everyone's a star for three minutes."

Conceived by drummer Daisuke Inoue, the world's first karaoke machine - known as the "Juke-8" - made its debut in 1971 in Kobe, Japan. He didn't patent the creation, and the idea (secured a decade later by a Filipino inventor) flourished quickly in Asia.

Faced with a lingering foreign stigma and a pervasive sentiment that singing in public was a professional's game, meanwhile, the concept didn't immediately catch on in the United States.

"We had a very narrow definition of what talent was," said Brian Raftery, a 34-year-old New York reporter and the author of Don't Stop Believin': How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life. "For a long time, it was a complete oddity in America.

"You got anecdotal mileage for a year. Who could believe you did this thing?"

But, thanks to the introduction of home karaoke machines, participatory Web sites (particularly YouTube) and the meteoric rise of the TV singing competition American Idol (a factor that karaoke hosts and junkies are loath to acknowledge), the idea of strangers serenading strangers didn't seem so bizarre.

"It's pretty much exploded," said Karl Lyngstad, owner of the Worst Bar in Columbus. "On competition nights, it's hard to get in the door."

Offering karaoke has helped many proprietors boost bar business and build more-personal relationships with customers (not a stretch, Lyngstad said, after seeing a longtime male regular arrive dressed as Cyndi Lauper or watching quieter imbibers suddenly belt out tunes like professionals).

For the proper venue and the right crowd, such a kitschy pairing can be as complementary as Hall & Oates, Sonny & Cher or Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat.

"People go out for karaoke; they don't stumble into a bar and there's karaoke there," said the

26-year-old Clemons, whose "dirtyoke" crowds have grown weekly - and, last month, earned him the best-karaoke-night award in a Columbus Alive! poll.

Participants, he said, drive the momentum. And the bonds run deeper than who can nail the best Freddie Mercury interpretation.

"When you find a group of people who are all willing to put themselves out there, it's like an invitation to get to know them," said Mary Hall, a 26-year-old from the North Side who frequented Casto's karaoke nights for months before working up the nerve to perform several years ago.

The regulars at her twice-weekly outings have since become a second family.

"I was a different person before karaoke," Hall said. "Now my priority is having fun."

Additionally, Dispatch Photographer William Figg posted the following to his blog that appears at


Once just a side activity, Karaoke has become the main attraction in some night clubs and bars where loyalist youngsters are reeled in by costumes, themes and a more night club feel. This is Dave's new once a month Karaoke night at The Summit here in Columbus, Ohio. A look at why people love to be front and center.

All Photos for the Columbus Dispatch