‘A perfect outlet to let go of nerves and act a fool’

Jaye Mills plays the songs he loves and hates at the Lemon Grove Cafe every Wednesday night.

Meat Loaf isn’t his favorite, so that’s when he typically rushes outside to smoke a cigarette.

For those who request Mills’ music from a karaoke song list, the opportunity to stand on stage and sing a favorite track almost makes them feel like a professional.

It’s no surprise that Lemonaoke attracts regulars.

Mills, who began his career at private parties, has expanded to bars and clubs throughout the years.

He got the gig after Jacob Harver, owner of the Lemon Grove Cafe, noticed his talents.

“It has been almost a year since I started there, and every week keeps getting stronger and stronger,” Mills said.

Nearly every night somewhere in the Mahoning Valley, people go out on a limb in front of strangers — singing drunk, tone-deaf or with passion, faced only with the risk of slight embarrassment.

They have one desire: enjoyment.

From the Lemon Grove Cafe, to neighboring Barley’s, to Los Gallos Mexican Restaurant, the voices of professional non-professionals fill the air.

These local bars allow people to make fools of themselves by singing outrageously into a microphone while audience members tap their feet or dance … or laugh.

“It’s a perfect outlet to let go of nerves and act a fool,” said David Szakacs, a junior at Youngstown State University. “Karaoke loses its luster when it gets taken too seriously. It is nothing to be scared of.”

Anne Garwig, a bartender at the Lemon Grove Cafe, said Lemonaoke is good for business.

“Wednesdays are consistently busy but not always slammed compared to shows on a Friday or Saturday,” she said.

Mills said his regulars have their favorite songs to sing, such as “I’m on a Boat” by The Lonely Island, “Just A Girl” by No Doubt, “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen and “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” by The Darkness.

Mills said a number of songs drive him crazy. He can’t stand “Picture” by Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock.

“There are a few songs I secretly refuse to add to my list: ‘Friday’ by Rebecca Black or ‘Teach Me How To Dougie,'” he said. “But I guess my secret is out now.”

However, Mills said the songs picked during Lemonaoke have been the best variety he’s ever had.

“I think it is because the crowd is so diverse,” Mills said. “In one night, I will play Billy Joel, ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ Jay-Z and a random Disney song.”

YSU junior Mike Tokarsky takes advantage of karaoke whenever he has the opportunity.

Tokarsky, who said he enjoys singing “Miami” by Will Smith or “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, was inspired as he drunkenly watched people perform karaoke at the Canfield Fair one year.

“After watching their performance, I was filled with so much inspiration, or maybe it was the alcohol,” he said. “Either way, I decided to give it a shot.”

Standing up on stage to sing karaoke for the first time is an experience Tokarsky will never forget.

“Never sing rap songs drunk,” he said. “The words will creep up on you.”

Communication major Brooke Stull likes to sing Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears with friends at O’Donold’s Irish Pub and Grill in Austintown.

“We usually have some cheesy little dance to go with it,” Stull said.

Sophomore Joe Fry has a little bit of history with his favorite karaoke song.

“I’ve been singing the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ song ever since I was in high school,” Fry said. “It’s my theme song.”

What urges Szakacs to get up on stage is knowing that it’s fun to let loose.

“The risk of being a complete fool isn’t as much of a risk as it is a guarantee for me,” he said.

Szakacs, who prefers to see a karaoke singer who makes him laugh, said he doesn’t get nervous before performing.

“I could have fun murmuring words to a Nickelback song even knowing that everyone, including myself, dislikes Nickelback,” he said.

Juan R. Figueroa, owner of Rumba the Show, enjoys getting involved with his entertainment business in order to help others break out of their shells and have a good time.

Rumba the Show’s karaoke locations are Los Gallos in Struthers and Boardman, as well as Potosino’s Mexican Grille in New Middletown.

Before every karaoke session, Figueroa and his team start out with a few popular party songs such as “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas and “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. They also play Latino music and a Rumba the Show theme song to get people in the groove.

“I try not to play the same songs because people get bored,” Figueroa said. “Sometimes I’ll surprise them and make them sing all different stuff. We try to get involved with the people and dance with them.”

Figueroa said common songs include “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard and “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens.

“Men seem to always want to sing ‘Margaritaville,’ and women always want to sing Bon Jovi,” he said.

Figueroa said it’s important to expand the Hispanic and Latino culture through singing and dancing.

“We started it [Rumba the Show] because there was nothing around here that was Latin for the people to make them dance, make them sing, things like that,” he said.

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