Ocean City's deck parties and bikini contests still draw large, fun-loving crowds, but one of the newest rages at the beach this summer is karaoke.
Karaoke is the Japanese music system that allows would-be singers -- and those who shouldn't sing -- to belt out popular songs, usually in front of an audience. You hear the music from the original song but not the artist.
"Everyone wants to try and sing and be a star for five minutes," says Brian Storman, manager of the Commander's Showcase Cafe. "It's a rush."
Indeed. Karaoke plays almost every night in Ocean City, primarily drawing crowds ranging from late teen-agers to senior citizens. But families with young children also get in on the act.
"Early in the week we get a lot of older people and families," says Tres Lynch, a bartender at the Showcase Cafe, where karaoke plays six nights a week. "On Friday and Saturdays, we get everybody -- it gets so crowded in here you can hardly move."
At nearby Cruiser's Cafe, owner Wayne Gutowski says karaoke draws families who often bring their young children, dressed in their pajamas.
"I think people really enjoy it," Mr. Gutowski says. "It's as much fun watching other people sing as it is to get up and sing."
Mr. Gutowski interrupted some late diners on a recent Friday to introduce his singing bartender, "Irish" Jimmy Henry from Philadelphia, who sang "Sixteen Candles."
"People are really surprised to see me get up and sing," Mr.
Henry says. "I'm waiting on people one minute and the next I'm up there singing."
Stephanie Welker and her cousin, Jennifer House, were talked into singing "Earth Angel."
"I thought it was funny," says Stephanie, a registered nurse from Bel Air. [Mr. Gutowski] offered us a free T-shirt to sing."
The crowd at the Showcase Cafe was under the spell of the Spinner & Hubcap Show, in which Jim Pedicore leads the nightly karaoke sessions.
Mr. Pedicore also takes center stage, imitating -- and not too badly -- Joe Cocker on songs like "You Are So Beautiful."
He also and serves as emcee, introducing the bold and the bashful who come to sing their favorite songs in front of an audience.
Singers can choose from about 1,500 songs, with keys changed to fit their voice and background vocals dubbed in. A video screen flashes the words to the songs to help singers with the lyrics.
"You'll hear everything from music from the 1930s to M.C. Hammer," Mr. Lynch says.
Rob and Ben -- that's "rockin' Ben" -- took the stage before midnight for their rendition of the Beatles' "She's Got a Ticket to Ride." Wearing glittery wigs, dancing and playing to the audience, they were less nervous than other performers, winning lots of applause.
"Was that sweet or what?" asks Rob Coyne, 21, as he leaves the stage. "I had my wig in my mouth half the time. . . . We're up there just about every other night -- we do sappy songs so we can get girls."
"It's a great time," says Mr. Coyne, a business finance major at Towson State University.
His partner, Ben Lundie, 22, from Lochlomond, Scotland, agrees.
"It's a lot of fun," he says. "It's really a big thing in Scotland and Europe. So many Americans don't even know what it is."
Mr. Lundie says he's a "Great Balls of Fire" man, preferring to sing the repertoire of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Cynthia Lasner, a cast member of "Little Shop of Horrors," playing at the Commander's Dinner Theater, took the karaoke stage with her rendition of Bette Midler's "The Rose."
"We do it every chance we get," says Ms. Lasner, 20, of Severn, who is often joined on stage by another woman.
"We sing when everyone is still sober so people know how to appreciate singing," she says, laughing. "You won't believe what you hear later in the evening."
Jordan's Rooftop restaurant and bar, 138th Street, Sundays to Tuesdays.
Commander's Showcase Cafe, 14th Street and the boardwalk, every night except Wednesday.
Croc's, 55th Street, Friday.
Brass Balls, 11th Street, Thursdays.
Smitty McGee's, Route 54, Fenwick Island, Del., Sundays.
Schooners, Princess Royale Hotel, 91st Street, Thursdays.
Cruisers Cafe, Wicomico Street and Baltimore Avenue, Thursdays to Saturdays and other nights on demand.