The art of performing songs in front of a crowd is as old as the sung word itself. Allowing everyone the opportunity to perform and to be applauded for the effort, with good or bad being a matter of opinion, is karaoke.
It is no secret that the term "tone deaf" is readily associated with karaoke. Most performances sound out of tune because most people have difficulty matching their voice to the tune of a song. But the word karaoke has nothing to do with tone or a deafness to it. Instead, it is a combination of two Japanese words: kara, meaning empty, and okesutora (abbreviated to oke), meaning orchestra. It refers to the absence of vocals in a recording of music.
Many people have a secret desire to be a star, to perform before a crowd and be applauded and cheered, satiating that deep need to be heard and appreciated for the effort. Karaoke makes that possible by providing tracks of popular music without the lead vocals, so our own voice can be heard.
There is an assumption that because karaoke is done in bars and nightclubs, at birthday parties, and many other social events, that it is not a formal affair, and therefore there are no rules. This is a false assumption. While it is not spoken, there are two major points of etiquette to keep in mind when heading out to do karaoke: Everyone gets a chance and everyone is a star.
Everyone gets a chance
Karaoke is a group activity. Everyone has an opportunity to participate as an audience member and as a singer. A DJ has the responsibility of keeping a rotation. Asking the DJ to "squeeze you in" for one last song because you have to leave early, when there are people ahead of you, is not acceptable, nor is the DJ's willingness to do it.
It doesn't seem like it would be a big deal to shift a list around to accommodate this request. It is, after all, one song. But when a crowd of people are waiting patiently for their names to be called, someone going out of turn can stir up conflict. It can also throw the rest of the list out of sync. Simply not asking for this favor (or if you are a DJ, not accommodating the request) will prevent problems and ensure a peaceful, pleasant experience.
Everyone is a star
Karaoke is supposed to make the singer feel like a star. The lights, microphone and speakers do a good job of putting the singer out there; however, crowd participation is also expected and is a major part of the experience. Applause and cheers, even when the performance is sub-par, are expected. Negative comments and gestures are considered rude.
It takes a lot of nerve to get up on a stage and perform for others. Doing so despite fear is an accomplishment. The ability to overcome those nerves deserves respect, even if the performance itself does not. Applaud the effort. Enjoy the show!