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Video: New Sarasota karaoke spot offers private setting

Every time I think of karaoke, I go back to the scene from the 1997 film “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” You know the one where Cameron Diaz’s character gets duped into singing a horrible rendition of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” in a crowded bar. The plan was for her to look bad in front of her gorgeous fiance. People yell insults at her as she sings but then — only in Hollywood — the whole bar joins in the song.

Some people I know won’t do karaoke for that very reason. They are afraid the experience won’t end with a Hollywood moment, but with them as a laughing stock. Who wants to be branded as the person who couldn’t even hold a tune through Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.”

But there’s hope with Kroaky’s Karaoke — Sarasota’s first private karaoke room establishment. There, groups of two to 25 people can gather in one of 14 stylish rooms for a personal karaoke extravaganza like no other. It’s kind of like singing in someone’s living room with hundreds of songs to choose from. I’ve done plenty of living room karaoke — Nintendo Xbox style. But this is a little different and much more posh.

Kroaky’s is a nod to the Japanese take on karaoke. Owners Mark and Mary Devlin lived in Tokyo for 18 years, experiencing the private karaoke room phenomenon.

Karaoke, which means empty orchestra, was developed in Kobe, Japan, in the 1970s, according to By the 1980s, the concept spread around the world. There’s just something about singing, possibly the carefree nature of it all, that draws people to karaoke.

Japan’s private rooms were a hit. Mark Devlin said Asian-style karaoke was more popular than going to a movie theater.

Being a part of the action is better than watching it, so to speak.

“I think basically people like to sing,” said Mark Devlin, a former publisher who hails from Scotland. “People like to entertain outside of the home.”

Given its popularity overseas and the fact that there hasn’t been anything similar in Sarasota, the Devlins decided to give private karaoke rooms here a try. Their business has been open since November.

Kroaky’s has attracted everyone from students to retirees. Weekends are the busiest times. During the week, there’s a ladies night and a kids night.

On a recent Saturday night, 23-year-old Vera Savany, of Sarasota, came to Kroaky’s for a special family outing. It was her second visit there. Surrounded by parents, friends, aunts and uncles, she belted out a soothing rendition of Journey’s “Faithfully.”

Savany loves to sing so much that she once tried out for “American Idol.” She wasn’t picked for the show.

Savany said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she arrived with her boyfriend to find hallways full of private rooms and disco lights.

“If ‘Star Trek’ had a karaoke, this is what it would look like,” she joked.

Savany enjoys Kroaky’s over other traditional karaoke places in the area, because she doesn’t have to wait an hour to sing. Instead, she can sing as much as she likes in her own private room, which houses a quality sound system.

“It’s better than most karaoke places,” said Savany, who prefers singing songs by Journey and Prince. “Anybody can sound good.”

Devlin said he has plans to add a Rock Band night, too. Rock Band is a video/karaoke game that lets players perform in a virtual band. It involves a guitar, bass, drums and a lead singer.

If Kroaky’s becomes a success in Sarasota, Devlin said he’ll definitely open up another one in Bradenton.

Since weekends can be Kroaky’s busiest times, it is recommended that guests reserve a room in advance.

Anyone can afford an evening out at Kroaky’s. It’s only $5 per person, per hour to rent a room.

You’d be surprise how an hour turns into two and two turns into three.

Rooms are filled with comfy couches, a couple of tables, colorful walls and disco lights that may bring out your inner dancer. I recently went with a group of friends, so I can vouch for the dancing.

Being in one of Kroaky’s rooms is like being out of reality. It’s just you, your friends, your favorite songs and two microphones. Plus food. Food and drinks can be ordered from a menu. If you decide to eat later or if you want another round of pizza, breaded shrimp, mozzarella sticks or other items, you can pick up the phone on the wall and place an order.

Believe it or not, singing works up an appetite.

Kroaky’s has hundreds of songs from which to choose. You’ll find everything from Frank Sinatra to Rihanna. There’s top 40, country, alternative, rock, songs from TV, films and musicals, and Christmas tunes. There’s even French, Greek, Jewish and Spanish choices.

Devlin said youth gravitate toward Hannah Montana tunes, while mature clients adore the classics from the 1950s and ’60s. For everyone else in between, music choices vary, he said.

One time, Devlin heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” playing in one room. When he peered in the door’s window, he saw everyone standing up with their hand on their hearts, he said.

The group I went with found some of the best karaoke fare to be songs from the 1970s and ’80s — anything from David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” to Gloria Estefan’s “Turn the Beat Around” to Rick James’ “Super Freak.” We sung them all.

It seems like no karaoke night can be complete without singing Garth Brooks’ “Friends In Low Places” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” We did those, too, for good measure.

Guests of Kroaky’s can create a play list via remote control using codes from one of two song books available. Type the song’s code in the system and it will appear in the queue. But be careful. On the night I went, my friends and I had a little trouble adding songs. Several times we accidently erased the entire play list or cut off the current song. This was the only hang up out of the whole experience. Well, that and the fact I couldn’t remember how the tune went to Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey.” Even with the words in front of me and the music blaring, I could only remember how the chorus went.

Our group had a blast ad-libbing and talking to the “audience” during songs as if we were actual performers giving a private concert.

Maybe we should take our show on the road. Or just invite a few more friends out to Kroaky’s and get a bigger room — the one with the stage.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

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