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    Synch or swim

    Their knees may buckle at first but karaoke is contagious fun for kids. And thanks to a family-friendly ice cream shop, they don't have to crowd a bar to join in.

    [Times photo: Carlton Ward Jr.]
    From left, Maddie Sladden, 6, her aunt, Cathi Sladden of Seminole, and her cousin Zackery Sladden, 8, hit the karaoke stage at A Scoop Above II in Seminole.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 15, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- "Yee haw," yelled Brittany Hooper, her blue eyes and bright smile flashing under the tiny white lights and ivy in the ice cream shop.

    "Yee haw," yelled a roomful of squirming young children.

    Hooper, 16, is the announcer for karaoke night at the Scoop Above II ice cream shop across from Seminole Middle School. Her job is to get the crowd excited and ready to sing. One day in May, she came in with her sister for some ice cream and got lassoed into the job by the owner, Pat Johnson.

    "Sometimes I stand up there and say, "Somebody help me,' " she said. "It's hard when there's dead air up there."

    Every Friday and Saturday night, kids pay a $3 cover charge to sing in the little ice cream shop. During the summer, there is also Christian karaoke on Tuesday nights, family karaoke on Wednesday nights and competition karaoke on Thursday nights.

    In October, shop owner Pat Johnson called Terry Jones of Karaoke Showcase to start a karaoke night because her teenage daughters were going to Mugs and Jugs to sing.

    "I walked in (Mugs and Jugs) one night and there were all these kids," Johnson said. "It wasn't a big deal until they came home and talked about these older guys hitting on them."

    So she came up with the idea to have karaoke night at her ice cream shop.

    "I said there's no place for these young kids to go to have fun," said Johnson. "It allows kids to have a social environment. They learn how to behave."

    Some parents believe Johnson is the perfect Friday night babysitter for their kids, that they can drop them off at 8 p.m. and pick them up at midnight. But Johnson stresses that while she does her best to keep the kids at the shop by selling Italian ice and glow sticks, some have been known to wander off and go hang out at the Circle K next door.

    Still, on a recent night, the young people seemed enthralled by the karaoke.

    "Are you guys coming up?" Brittany asked a tableful of kids.

    Richard Wilson, 11, got up with a young female friend and sang Summer Nights, the old John Travolta/Olivia Newton John song from the movie Grease. They followed the lyrics on a television screen in front of them, singing more than a bit off-key.

    Nobody minds. The more off-key the kids sing, the more they giggle. The more they giggle, the more the crowd giggles.

    Soon, everyone in the place is laughing.

    Richard comes off the stage with a huge grin on his face.

    "It doesn't matter if you're good or bad," he said. "Everybody claps anyway."

    Richard is at the ice cream shop every Friday and Saturday night, and plans to join the chorus when classes start at Seminole Middle School in the fall.

    After two girls timedly sang Sarah McLachlan's Angel, Christina Dragovich, 14, sang Shania Twain's country song Honey, I'm Home.

    "I've only heard it once," she said, adding she usually sings Angel of Mine by Monica.

    "I skipped three parties to come tonight," she said. "It's lots of fun here."

    Christina said she used to be afflicted with a bad case of stage fright before she began singing at the ice cream shop -- but not anymore.

    "It's nothing here but teenagers," said Christina, an ardent Christina Aguilera fan. "Everyone is so nice. I'm not afraid in front of them. I can mess up and not be embarrassed, and not hide all night. They're all very encouraging. We just laugh at ourselves."

    But when 12-year-old Lia Friedman got up to sing for the first time without a partner, she almost fainted.

    "I felt the ground was uneven and I was dizzy," she said.

    But she got through Faith Hill's This Kiss just fine, because ultimately, she said, she "doesn't care what people think about me."

    The stage empty, Brittany calls out to a table, "You ready to sing yet?"

    No takers.

    "Okay," she said. "Just keep thinking about it."

    She calls up the singing team of Greg and Josh.

    "Greg is a karaoke junkie," she tells the audience.

    They sing Wild Thing.

    "Wild thing, you make my heart sing," they sing. "We rock!"

    Prepubescent girls at a table dissolve into giggles, then start to sing along.

    "We're used to it," said Josh Cunningham, 9.

    If you go

    A Scoop Above II ice cream shop offers karaoke Tuesdays through Saturdays. Christian karaoke is 7 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays; family karaoke is 7 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays; competition karaoke is 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays; and family karaoke is 8 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. A Scoop Above II is at 8686 131st St. N, Seminole, across from Seminole Middle School.

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