Zurin Villanueva as Josephine Baker in ‘Josephine Tonight’ at MetroStage. (JamesAlexanderNY)

Karaoke is an art form. For something that literally anyone can try, it’s remarkably easy to screw up. You select your song, stride to the mike and before you know it, things fall apart. Maybe you realize, moments too late, that you only know the chorus of the song you chose. Maybe you pick “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Classic! What could go wrong?) and find yourself stranded onstage for a few back-to-back forevers with nothing to do during the guitar break. Maybe in an effort to be “drunk enough to sing” you crossed over into “too wasted to stand” territory. Happens to the best of us.

Zurin Villanueva knows a thing or two about singing in public. She’s currently starring in “Josephine Tonight” at MetroStage, an original musical based on the beginning of Josephine Baker’s life. “She goes from having nothing and dancing in the street to being on the cover of every European magazine,” said Villanueva. Before that, the actress graduated from Howard University’s musical theater program and won Arena Stage’s “Finding Yolanda” contest for their 2009 production of “Crowns.” In other words, Villanueva has all the karaoke expertise you need to channel your inner rock star.

Class participation “The first thing is to consider your audience when you’re selecting your song. Don’t be afraid to use the audience. If your friends are sitting there, you can use them and mess with them. The audience loves that. Or if there’s a guy or girl there that you like, that you were chatting up before you started to sing, you can do a little something something to them, too.”

No more mumblecore “Stay away from songs where it’s hard to understand what the words are and songs that are they’re so obscure that nobody knows what they are. Because if they don’t know the song they’re just going to watch you. And no 10-minute songs. You want to keep it short and sweet, because [otherwise] people will get mad at you. They want to sing, too!”

Zurin Villanueva as Josephine Baker in ‘Josephine Tonight’ at MetroStage. (JamesAlexanderNY/JamesAlexanderNY)

The hit parade As for what songs are consistent crowd pleasers, she said, “Of course, Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer.’ Please. That’s the easiest one in the book! A nice Al Green, that can never go wrong. Chaka Kahn. Uplifting songs, like the guys’ guys song or the girls’ girls song. Like ‘I Will Survive.’ Never fails!”

Go big or go home “Make a fool of it. Don’t start saying ‘Oh, God,” when that high note is coming. Fail spectacularly, because everyone’s going to be like, ‘YEAH, go for it!’ They will cheer the bad note, as bad as it is, because they know they don’t sound good either. Just go. Make it a comedy. Do the head cock and make a face for the high note.”

Be a team player “Going up as a group is okay as long as everyone gets a chance to sing. It’s always great if you get to split it up, everyone takes a verse so everyone gets their moment, like “Lady Marmalade.”

Actually, it is a popularity contest “Make sure you really know the song. If you pick a song that’s not as popular, the actual karaoke track might sound completely different from what you remember.”

One bourbon, one scotch or one beer “You want that nice tipsy line. You don’t want to go beyond that. Once you’ve got the nice tipsy happening but you still know what you’re doing and you can still read the teleprompter, that’s what you want! You go beyond that, you can’t even read the teleprompter. ”

Josephine Tonight

at Metro Stage, Jan. 26 - Mar. 18, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, www.metrostage.org, 703-548-9044.


“Make a fool of it. Don’t start saying ‘Oh, God,” when that high note is coming. Fail spectacularly, because everyone’s going to be like, ‘YEAH, go for it!’ ”

Zurin Villanueva

star of “Josephine Tonight”