Karaoke Hero 

Thom Price on the power and pitfalls of being a karaoke DJ.

Thom Price has never been thrown up on, and he says this with a bit of reluctance.

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“We’ve had anything from girls flashing to people falling off the stage. I’ve never been barfed on … but I’m waiting desperately for it,” he laughs.

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He’s not a rock star or a game-show host, but somewhere in the gap between: Price is a karaoke DJ'and proud of it.

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The 26-year-old, newsboy-capped Price sits in an unoccupied booth at State Street’s Piper Down to finish a cigarette and reminisce on beginning his self-described “dream job.” With the exception of some lone barflies and a couple finishing dinner a booth over, the bar remains eerily quiet. In a few hours, though, the club will be full of inebriated fanatics waiting a turn to sing their favorite tunes, all because of him.

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Prior to his three-years-and-counting employment with Spotlight Entertainment, a Utah-based DJ/karaoke service provider, Price was just singing “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer.”

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“I was actually singing over at the Bull & Bear before it was Monk’s; they used to have this piano, and I sang Elton John songs. The owner of Spotlight was there one night and just liked the personality and he asked me if I wanted to give it a try,” he says. “So I started doing one show a week and got trained … now it’s a five-night-a-week thing. Full-time.”

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Such dedication to a trade that gets as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield is daunting, and Price won’t dispute the stigma that karaoke retains as being “a joke.” But that doesn’t make it any less fun.

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“In a sense'people are going to get mad at me for this'but it kind of is a joke. I don’t ever think it was meant to be taken too seriously. I mean it’s my job and what I do and I love it and it’s great fun, but that’s just it: It’s fun and a great time at the bar,” Price admits. “It seems to me that karaoke, more so than other bar nights, just brings people together. Somebody will sing a song and someone else will say, ‘Hey that’s great, what’s your name?’ and you’re instant friends,” he says. “Here, everybody knows each other.”

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But like any other job, karaoke DJ-ing has its drawbacks. Imagine the heartbreak of falling out of love with Bon Jovi. Every night.

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“Let me go down the list of the songs that, if I hear again, I’m seriously considering firebombing myself,” Price says, slightly exasperated. “‘Sweet Caroline.’ Nothing against Mr. Diamond, but that’s a little overdone. ‘Killing Me Softly.’ If I hear another girl trash that song it will be one too many. And ‘My Humps’ by the Black Eyed Peas; That’s usually a scary sight. Nothing against the songs personally, it’s the people who do these that can be kind of, eh … Any Bon Jovi, that can all go. ‘Friends in Low Places?’ We get it: We’re all alone and all friends. That’s great.”

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Whether watching a woman perform Janis Joplin through primal scream, a man in a bling-encrusted Notorious B.I.G. shirt sing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” or another guy perform the complete “Rainbow Connection” in Kermit the Frog’s voice, it’s easy to see why Price professes love for Salt Lake City’s karaoke “uniqueness.”

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“I’ve done karaoke in other cities before, like Los Angeles or Denver, and it’s nine or 10 people sitting around doing their little thing. But here, it’s off like a rocket! People get into it. They rock,” he says.

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“It’s always nice to hear a good singer, but I really prefer the people who just get crazy,” Price continues. “Jump around all you want. A lot of karaoke DJs I’ve seen get really nervous when people start getting crazy, but I say just go for it: jump off the stage, run into the audience, break shit, you know … unless it’s something really expensive, I say do it. That’s what it’s all about.”

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Ryan Bradford

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