No one in Dallas does karaoke quite like Karaoke Carmen. For more than a decade, she's held court at arguably the best, and certainly the most notorious, karaoke night in the city: Sundays at The Goat. Backed by a live band, Carmen's a proudly autocratic leader. She has no qualms about choosing who does and doesn't take her stage to perform. Some folks love her, others hate her, but anyone who's ever been certainly remembers her.
But now that landscape has been turned on its head. Carmen recently decided to vacate her post at The Goat and take her act to Deep Ellum's Adair's Saloon.
Since 2002, 62-year-old Debra Marie Yunson-gulledge, better known simply as Carmen, has been hosting "Carmen's Live Track Shows" on Sunday nights at The Goat, a neighborhood blues dive bar on Gaston Avenue. The show is utterly unique thanks to the live band -- and Carmen's insistence that not just anyone gets to come up and sing. "New people are sometimes great singers," Carmen says. "But most of the time they are not."
Carmen was born in Honolulu, which shaped her vision for karaoke. Karaoke was invented in Japan as an outlet for frustrated workers who needed a way to let their hair down after they clocked out. And in Hawaii, some places were pay-to-play. Karaoke shows were often carefully crafted showcases of the best local talent. The hosts had total freedom to choose who sang and when they sang.
"You had no right to sing," remembers Carmen. This is largely what she did with her show at The Goat. Instead of having people simply sign up and fill the slots, she sought and cultivated local talent. She also allowed people to perform by "bumping up," aka dropping some cash in the tip jar.
Carmen's show at The Goat has been a huge draw on Sunday nights. It was a unique and wonderful event with an eclectic following. It had to be special to last more than 12 years. "It's been called a phenomenon," she says. "You don't expect it when you walk in. The show took on a life of its own."
But after finishing her show last Sunday, Carmen resigned. "It hurt," she says. "I was kind of crying. I couldn't believe it." She explains that two weeks earlier she was given an ultimatum: Either quit bumping or be replaced. "Bumping is not a sin or against the law!" Carmen insists. "There are no karaoke laws."
Carmen believes that The Goat simply got tired of people complaining about not being able to sing and did what they had to do. "It's hilarious," she says of folks complaining. "It shows the delusions of people." She tried the usual format, allowing anyone and everyone to sign up and fill the slots, but found it very boring. "I manage the show," she says, "I manage the stage, for the good of the show. I wasn't going to compromise. For me the priority was the quality of the singers."
Carmen certainly had a few options. But within two days she had officially moved the show to Adair's Saloon. "Carmen's Live Track Shows" will debut at the Deep Ellum staple this Sunday, transitioning seamlessly without missing a single week. The only difference Carmen expects is a greater focus on country music, which she is excited about. She believes that a sizable portion of her audience at The Goat was from Deep Ellum and, by all accounts, people were coming to her show from all over the metro area anyway.
In the meantime, The Goat has also transitioned seamlessly, with their new show, "Oh My Goat!" scheduled to start this coming Sunday. It will feature DJ Josh Hammertimez who also hosts "Good Luck Karaoke" at Twilite Lounge every Thursday with George Quartz and Oliver Peck -- a very different type of karaoke show. The hosts have weekly themes, often wearing costumes and staying in character, and the singers use autotune, which guarantees a good performance. Like Carmen, Hammertimez has experienced some issues with Good Luck, which was dropped by its longtime home at Double Wide last April.
"I've always enjoyed the people-watching aspect of The Goat," says Hammertimez. "It's an interesting cast of characters who frequent the bar. You never see any of those folks anywhere else." Hammertimez will not be using a live band at The Goat and "Oh My Goat!" will not resemble "Good Luck Karaoke." There will not be costumes or characters. Standup comedian Tara Brown will be his sidekick.
With quick changes taking place on the local karaoke scene, all parties involved wish each other the best. The Goat's bar manager, Adam Testa, insists that the split with Carmen was amicable and that he knew she would have no trouble finding another place. Hammertimez says he is simply honored to follow Carmen's lead. And Carmen is excited about the upcoming change, thrilled to be working with bar manager Joel Morales at Adair's, and grateful for her time at The Goat.
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