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Karaoke may just be the last frontier of un-self-conscious fun.

Hugging Your Inner Diva

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Come on, admit it. It's self-deprecating geeky fun. You grab a few of your closest friends, and — ahem — your finest fa la las and scoot off to a place where nobody knows your name. Then, with the aplomb of a full-blown diva, you sing your little heart out. Oh, that you had pursued that singing career way back when.

Move over Annie Lenox, step aside Aretha, here come the real backstreet boys and girls of another generation - the karaoke generation. Week in and week out, they gather in droves to prove that karaoke is so much more than kitsch. Instead, it's a pastime as American as Kadima and church-league softball.

It may come as a surprise to most, but karaoke is alive and well in Richmond. So much so, that on any given night, its followers know exactly where to go. And, unlike a few years ago, not every bar and lounge in town bills itself a karaoke haven. Still, it's got a loyal following of fans — everyone from sun-kissed bikers to grandmas to the tongue-pierced grunge clan — eager to belt out their favorite songs before any given crowd.

Unlike other fads that come and go, karaoke, God help us, seems to have staying power. After more than 10 years in the mainstream, its practitioners have become nearly professional. And — if you hedge your bets — most performances are a far cry from Cameron Diaz's crooning in "My Best Friend's Wedding." But even if you're not a self-proclaimed karaoke king or queen, karaoke is worth the embarrassment and laughs that a few shrill notes no doubt will bring. What's more, it's great fun. Plus, there's nothing that makes Barry Manilow or Meatloaf come so alive as singing the words to "I Can't Smile Without You" or "Paradise By the Dashboard Lights" as the scroll down a video screen with dubbed-in backups. So go ahead and lose yourself, Mr. Microphone:

Caddy's - 13312 Midlothian Turnpike. Tuesday through Thursday nights, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m. 794-3007.

Café 21 - 600 N. Sheppard St. Fridays and Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.- 1:30 a.m. Both nights are packed by 10 p.m. Sign up early. 355-3774.

Gus' Italian Café — 1139 Bellcreek Road, Mechanicsville. Wednesday through Friday nights, 8 p.m. — midnight; Saturdays, 8 p.m.- 2 a.m. 730-9620.

Mekong Restaurant - 6004 W. Broad St. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 p.m. —2 a.m. Some American, mostly Vietnamese songs. 288-8929.

— 1323 W. Main St. Wednesdays, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Huge selection. 353-8686.

— Genito Crossing Shopping Center. Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. 744-8686.

— 12377 Gayton Road. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.-midnight. Friday nights get pretty crowded so get there early. 740-9178.

Sticky Rice - 2232 W. Main St. Tuesdays, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Restaurant crowd.

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