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Karaoke Evolution

Game On: "SingStar Pop" "SingStar Rocks!" Playstation 2, $29.99 each, E 10+ for Everyone 10 and older

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Karaoke is cool.

You may still think of karaoke as something lonely singles do in the back of a Bennigan’s, waving around a glass of Chablis while trying to nail all the notes of a Donna Summer hit. Collect a bunch of 9-year-olds and put them in front of a PlayStation 2 with a copy of “SingStar Pop” and a couple of microphones, and you’ll soon discover that karaoke is actually cool.

It may not be fair to judge games by the tastes of elementary-school-age boys. They lack the critical maturity and worldly experience to offer deep insight on cultural products. Then again, they do know cool. Ask a kid if “Halo” is any good, and he’ll say it is, whether he’s played it or not. Nine-year-olds know that Mario is one smooth dude and Barney is not.

And in my house, 9-year-olds love “SingStar.”

Since their discovery of the twin-microphone game that lets you sing along to a variety of hits – complete with music videos – all other games have been pushed aside. Even the venerable “Guitar Hero” has started to gather dust as the kids plow through songs such as the All-American Rejects’ “Move Along” and that Britney Spears chestnut “. . . Baby One More Time.”

If you still have doubts that butchering your favorite pop songs provides any fun, try this little experiment. Fire up “SingStar” at your next party. Before you’ve worked your way through a-ha’s classic “Take On Me,” complete with a groundbreaking, animated new-wave video, expect everyone in the room to clamor for a shot at the mike. Young and old will want to sing along, and it won’t take long before you get a whole roomful of people shouting the lyrics to The Raconteurs’ “Steady, As She Goes.” Monotones and voices like angels, everyone wants to sing.

“SingStar” isn’t the first karaoke game on the PlayStation and may not even be the most popular. “Karaoke Revolution” has kicked around the video-game world long enough to produce a half-dozen versions. The title remains a fan favorite because of its wide variety of songs and play modes. Compared side by side, “SingStar”’s use of original music videos does a better job of creating a pop-star vibe than do “KR’s” animated singers and sets. Regardless of whether you like James Blunt’s Englishman r&b, it’s hard not to enjoy the moody video for “You’re Beautiful.” And the use of original material fits the timeless desires of every shower singer. When you rock out to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” you don’t imagine yourself as some also-ran from “American Idol” covering this classic slice of pop. Instead, you’re Whitney, with big ‘80s hair and soaring voice. We want to be the stars. Singing along to their videos is as old as MTV and just as cool.

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