SURREY — Jacqueline Stone is always wanting to sing, even though she doesn’t have much time to breathe these days, so to speak.
The affable business owner is the woman behind Almost Famous Entertainment, which has built a significant following among amateur singers at several Surrey pubs over the past few years. Currently, more than a dozen local establishments hire her company to stage karaoke nights, and the number always seems to be growing.
“I’m working seven nights a week right now, so I’m hopping,” the well-tattooed Stone said at Guildford’s Taphouse bar on a recent Wednesday evening.
“We were short-staffed for a bit, with people leaving and going on maternity or moving away, but we’ve hired some new people who are awesome. I was down to three employees but now we’re at six, after a hiring spree. It’s all good.”
Stone’s enthusiasm for karaoke was infectious as she clicked through some of the 70,000 songs on the RoxBox system installed in a laptop computer. Behind her, a screen showed the star-shaped Almost Famous logo and its slogan, “For the love of music,” and a single microphone was clipped to a stand.
(PICTURED: Stone as seen on the website Almostfamousentertainment.com)
“We have a history for each of our singers,” she boasted. “The system shows the different keys of songs, the different versions we have, how many times they’ve sung them and on what date. It rocks.”
Today, Stone certainly rocks the mic when it’s her turn to sing as host, but it wasn’t always that way.
“I was always singing growing up,” she revealed, “but I can say that I was terrible, honestly. I learned. And I tell people that if they keep singing, they’ll get better at it – sing in the car, sing in the shower, just practise.
“I really do love music,” she continued, “but I would never want fame, which is why I am literally living my dream. I get to sing every night of the week and I get paid to do it, with zero fame attached to it.”
Stone was a server at a Walnut Grove-area pub when she got the idea to launch her own karaoke company. Someone suggested the name Almost Famous, and it worked because Stone wanted something that started with the letter A, for optimal presence in local phone books (remember, it was 2008).
“Of course,” she explained with a laugh, “it’s a perfect name, too, because some customers think they’re almost famous, right, with how they perform a song. They are really into it.”
Some faithful customers do karaoke seven days a week, she said.
“It’s just a lifestyle. They work all day, have a bite to eat and come to karaoke, and they become like family. We call them the Almost Famous Family Members. They can come by themselves and they’ll see other family members here, and we know them all by first name, and I hug them all. You get to care about them so much. I’ve been doing this for seven years now. I’ve seen the ups and downs in their lives, all those things.”
In recent times, the karaoke queen has found her king, a musician named Adam Briscoe (PICTURED), hired as a host by Stone six months ago. Their professional relationship has blossomed into a personal one, too.
“He came to a show and sang Queen’s ‘Somebody to Love’ and people just freaked out – just so much energy, so exciting – so I offered him a job almost on the spot,” Stone recalled. “I don’t usually hire customers, it just seems like a sticky situation, but really, they are the ones who are usually the most passionate about karaoke, naturally, and they know what works, why people go to karaoke and what to expect from a host.”
On the Taphouse stage, between periods of a Canucks hockey game, Briscoe belted out the Aerosmith classic “Dream On,” hitting the high notes near the end of the song.
“I didn’t sing karaoke until two years ago,” he said later. “I found it terrifying because I didn’t have a guitar with me, which is my comfort zone.
“I was super flattered when Jacqueline hired me,” Briscoe continued, “as I was also working a construction job, and it was killing me.”
Stone beamed a little.
“He says he’s shy but once he gets behind the mic, he’s not,” she underlined.
“The thing is, people think I’m a fun party animal, but I’m really not. So it’s good – you get to pretend for a few hours every night.”
These days, Stone’s favourite song to sing is “Ex’s & Oh’s,” the rootsy Elle King stomper.
“That has a sassiness to it that I kind of growl out, it’s just fun.”
For guys, the karaoke favourite at the moment seems to be “S.O.B.,” the booze-fueled song by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats.
“That amazes me,” Stone said, “because it’s actually the most depressing song if you read the lyrics. It’s all about going through withdrawal and doing rehab. People love it and eat it up, but it blows my mind that it’s so popular.”
Two years back, when the Now first met Stone, she said the most popular song on the local karaoke circuit was probably “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the Journey hit.
“It’s also one of the most challenging songs to sing,” she said, “so sometimes it can be sad, in a way, when someone tries it. It’s like, ‘OK, let’s put that down a few keys for ya.’”
In addition to The Taphouse, Surrey and White Rock-area pubs that present Almost Famous karaoke include Barrel Public House, Rusty’s, Hemingway Public House, Jimmy Flynn’s, Clydesdale Inn, Baselines, Sawbucks, Edith + Arthur, the Sandpiper and Green Timbers Pub. The company also hosts trivia nights at the Hemingway. For schedule details, visit Almostfamousentertainment.com. Also, updates are posted on the company’s Facebook page.