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Company Fulfills Dreams Of Being A Singing Star

November 5, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ Larry Williams once sang professionally, Tara Drzal has never sung in front of an audience before and Mike Sternberg has been singing for months with a voice described as fingernails scraped over a chalkboard.

Even so, the three were among the would-be Sinatras, Madonnas and Elvises living out fantasies of being a singing star at a recent Record-A-Hit show at Choice’s.

Tuesday night patrons of the saloon can get up on stage, grab the microphone and sing along with tapes of hit songs recorded without the lead vocal.

″It makes you feel like a rock star once you loosen up,″ said Jennifer Nicoll, a college student.

Larry Corcoran, a bartender at another tavern, said, ″You can be anybody you want to be up there. It’s a fantasy.″

The singers get a free tape of their performance, said Rob Broms, a former sales manager who saw a similar audience participation show in San Francisco 2 1/2 years ago and founded Record-A-Hit in Chicago.

Record-A-Hit sets up shop at five different Chicago-area nightclubs each week. The company also does private functions, special video tapings and even goes on band tours.

The concept is big business in Japan, where it is known as ″karaoke,″ or ″empty orchestra.″

″Everything is free for the customer except the beer,″ said Rick Asta, Choice’s owner. ″This really helps my place’s Tuesday blahs, with bigger crowds.″

Record-A-Hit offers over 600 selections - songs from the 1930s to the 1980s.

″I pick songs whose words I’m familar with,″ said Ms. Drzal, a computer programming trainee.

Singers get plenty of help - copies of lyrics, tips on vocalizing, echoes and other electronic effects, backup singers and props like sunglasses and cowboy hats.

Master of ceremonies Steve Morse coaxes people on stage like a carnival barker.

″Make a tape. They’re great little stocking stuffers for Christmas,″ he implored.

The show attracts an occasional Elvis or Michael Jackson impersonator.

At Choice’s one Tuesday, Dave Fanning, who works for Record-A-Hit, did Presley’s ″I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.″

″Than’ you, you’re boo-ful,″ he kept telling the crowd, a la Elvis.

″Gee, Elvis lives,″ yelled Williams, a former professional singer and current AT&T supervisor who had done Sinatra’s ″Summer Wind″ earlier.

Dave Sternberg did a rousing ″Hello Dolly″ in a raspy Louis Armstrong voice.

Some are kidded for their performances. When J.R. Rainey finished singing ″Boardwalk,″ his brother, Henry, told the audience, ″J.R.’s supposed to be at a church meeting tonight. I want to see how he’s going to take this tape home and play it for his wife.″

Although the crowd of about 50 people heard some less-than-tuneful crooners, there weren’t any catcalls.

Particularly off pitch was Sternberg, a 35-year-old lawyer who sang Sinatra’s ″My Way.″

″His voice is like fingernails on a chalk board,″ offered Joy Bouton, a college student.

Sternberg’s own brother, Mike, agreed.

″He can’t carry a tune in a suitcase,″ he said.

But the crowd gave him an ovation when he finished.

″You can be as lousy as the day is long but everybody is very supportive,″ Sternberg said.

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