You probably missed the New York Times' inquiry into the taboo practice of singing Sinatra's My Way at any karaoke bar in the Philippines for fear of getting killed. Many moons ago, I lived to tell about my gay karaoke tour of the Philippines (published on gay.com, reprinted below). What I failed to mention was that this Sintra legend was alive and thriving and we were scared for our lives to sing My Way.
GAY KARAOKE SWEEPS THE PHILIPPINES!
Karaoke is to the Philippines as baseball is to America. Japan may have named it, but Filipino folklore holds that a native named Roberto del Rosario invented the sing-along machine back in 1975. Thirty years later, you can't swing a portable microphone without hitting a karaoke bar.
And thanks to the Philippines' gay-friendly attitude, there's never a shortage of diva tracks to sing, from Bette and Britney to Cher, Madonna and Barbra.
The Philippines, an archipelago of 7,108 islands, was ruled by Spain, then America, then Japan, before gaining independence in 1946. Its mixed heritage makes for an easy transition for Western travelers. Bar soap ads in English run alongside cell phone billboards in Tagalog, the national language.
Most travelers start off in Manila and Cebu -- the nation's biggest cities, where you can find pulsating gay nightlife. But even if you're venturing on to the white-sand beaches of Boracay or the rainforests of Palawan, be sure to brush up on your '80s ballads: You never know when you'll be hit with a request, whether at a hostel, hotel, pub or stranger's house.
Start flexing those vocal cords -- and get ready for a musical journey through the kooky, tranny-dominated land of gay karaoke in Manila.
QUEZON CITY, an uptown Manila neighborhood
Tucked away in a cluster of gay karaoke bars, Butterfly Blue Bar (28 Timog Ave at the corner of Scout Tobias; +63-2/493-3487) stands out for its rainbow window and the gay couple who owns and runs it, Ryan and Raoul. Butterfly is intimate enough that you'll befriend everyone in a matter of minutes, and the songs are free -- so you can literally sing all night, since they don't close till 8 a.m.
At Amaritz (corner of Timog Ave and Scout Tobias, above Butterfly Blue Bar; +63-2/410-9014), think "schmaltzy Filipino-themed bar mitzvah venue." Overeager employees may hog the mic for too long -- or invite you on stage for a "She Bangs" duet. The mixed crowd includes hot male waiters and female "dancers," who may or may not be for rent.
The selection of songs at Rabbits (corner of Timog Ave and Scout Tobias, next door to Butterfly Blue Bar, no phone number), a slick, blue-and-white-striped spot, must have been crafted for the throngs of drag queens and transwomen who seem to be everywhere in the Philippines. You'll find entire karaoke DVDs devoted to a single artist, such as Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey.
MALATE, downtown Manila and hub of gay nightlife
A downtown gay karaoke staple for 17 years, the Library (1779 M. Adriatico St; +63-2/522-2484) boasts "performances" by local idols who await discovery. You can sing after the show, but don't get too drunk: There's no teleprompter feeding you lyrics, so you're on your own.
Another performance space, Comic Lab (1718 Jorge Bocobo St; +63-2/526-2730) combines standup and karaoke, which can be unfortunate if you're an American tourist pulled onstage and ridiculed (mostly in Tagalog) by two trannies and a girl. Luckily, you also have the option of performing two songs yourself, such as Shaggy's "Angel" or Madonna's "Crazy for You."
As the name suggests, at Male-landia (1804 Orosa St at the corner of Nakpil St; +63-2/522-2010) you'll be overrun by young men willing to put in your song requests or entertain certain other "requests" you may have. The songs may cost a quarter each, but having the whole bar sing along to Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is priceless.