ORIGINALLY WRITTEN KIM FRIESEN
Leroy O’Bray travels from town to town bringing temporary fame to average citizens. For the length of a song, anyone can stand under the lights on his stage and be a star.
By day, he rebuilds army engines and transmissions in Fort Riley, for Contract Services Inc. But O’Bray still finds time on weekends to run his Moonlight Karaoke company, which is based in Hope, and travels between several different towns, including Herington, Ramona, Marion and Florence.
“My oldest karaoke singer is 78-that’s Ivan,” O’Bray said. “He comes in and sings a lot of Hank Williams, and he’s starting to do a few other songs. He really enjoys it. He said it keeps him going.”
“Ivan” is Ivan Nickel of Hillsboro, one of the more popular singers on O’Bray’s karaoke circuit. Nickel and his can of Mountain Dew are fixtures at O’Bray’s shows.
A happy karaoke addict, Nickel said it has him “hook, line and sinker.” He estimated he’s been singing for four or five years now, and has sang at eight or nine different places. He said he likes O’Bray’s show the best.
“I’m as shy a person as could be-I wouldn’t get up in front of anybody,” Nickel said. “And somehow it hooked me, and to this day I can’t understand why. I just love it, and I’ve made a lot of friends through it.”
Nickel’s ability to overcome his shyness prompts him to encourage other people to give karaoke a try.
“There’s nothing to it-it’s a piece of cake,” he said.
The word “karaoke” simply means singing along to prerecorded music through the means of microphones and high-tech stereo equipment. For the past two and a half years, O’Bray has provided that music and equipment for a variety of customers.
How did he first get involved?
“The first time I sang was probably about three years ago, and it was just on a bet,” O’Bray said.
That bet led to helping a friend set up and tear down the equipment of her karaoke show. When O’Bray found out that she had more business than she could handle, he decided to start his own show.
“And now I’m booked every weekend,” O’Bray said.
Although his music company prompts him to log a lot of miles, he said a lot of fun is involved with his show.
“I enjoy watching people, and as long as they’re having fun, I’m having fun,” O’Bray said. “I find that I get people that come from Lincolnville to Herington on a regular basis. They start coming as regulars to different shows from Florence, Marion, Chapman, Solomon and Salina.
“You pick up people who see the show, and they enjoy the show. I do mine a little different-I have lights that most companies don’t have, so it puts on more of a show and it gives them a good time.
“The variety of the music is there as well, everything from pop and soul to rock-and-roll to country.”
Singing in public can be a jittery first-time experience, but O’Bray always greets newcomers with warmth and encouragement.
“I’ve had some people tell me that when they come to my show, it’s kind of a ‘friendly’ show,” O’Bray said. “I keep it loose, try to have fun with it, and encourage people.”
His three-inch-thick song list notebooks are divided by song titles and artists.
“If you know who the artist is, you can go in and find 40 or 50 songs under that artist,” O’Bray said. “If you don’t know the artist, but you know the name of the song, you can find it that way. So it’s cross-referenced.”
Once a singer chooses a song, he or she fills out a request form with the singer’s name and the song’s title and number. When the form is given to O’Bray, he puts the singer’s name on his list, and his or her turn always comes up at the same time when the list rotates.
O’Bray estimates he has close to 5,000 songs.
“And I’ve got more coming,” he said. “I try to buy at least three or four CDs a month-one a week. That way I can keep current on new stuff, and if I have some old stuff that people ask me for I’ll go out and buy that, too.”
The variety in both performers and the music they choose is what O’Bray enjoys the most about his shows.
Drawbacks, though few, do exist. People who are rude to other singers usually don’t get their requests played, for example. And once in a while, a frustrated singer will throw down the microphone.
“It’s that kind of rudeness that I just don’t like,” O’Bray said.
Since every weekend has only two days, O’Bray finds himself quite in demand.
He puts shows at Checker’s or Hank’s in Herington, The Outpost in Florence, Renegades in Lincolnville, Cheer’s II in Ramona and the VFW in Marion.
“There’s other places that might call me for a one-time show,” he said.
“It’s just all over the place-I’m willing to travel,” he said with a grin.
Mark Bishop, manager of The Outpost in Florence, said karaoke is successful in his establishment, and that “Karaoke Night: has the best crowd response by far.
He said most of his clientele comes from within Marion County.
“We get our regular customers, but we’ve been getting a lot of out-of-town customers lately,” Bishop said.
Karaoke draws as large a crowd as the live bands they occasionally book, he added. Any given “Karaoke Night” can find standing-room-only at The Outpost.
O’Bray’s rates are both affordable and reasonable, making him the No. 1 choice at most of the places that hire him.
Friendly, casual attitudes like O’Bray’s remove the frightening element from singing in public, and turn it into something that anyone can enjoy, whether they’re performing or just choosing to listen.
“Karaoke’s fun to do,” O’Bray said. “Go out to the nearest show and see if it’s for you. It’s just great-a good time.”
Kim Friesen is a Tabor College student. She wrote this article for a Mass Media Writing I class.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN KIM FRIESEN