Good times! The singer Tweeted an invite to fans to go barhopping with him – and they did

By Nancy Kruh
February 10, 2015 04:00 PM
Credit: Nancy Kruh

Yes, Brett Eldredge is the reigning CMA new artist of the year and is also in the running as ACM best new artist, but on Monday night in Nashville, he proved he carries another title: the king of karaoke.

For almost three hours, the country hitmaker barhopped with a throng of fans (and PEOPLE!), putting on a string of performances worthy of the karaoke hall of fame, if there were one – and there should be – if only to place Eldredge in it.

The merrymaking began with a Tweet from Eldredge in the late afternoon, inviting anyone who was up for karaoke to meet him in the parking lot across from the Music Row headquarters of his record label, Warner Music. Around 7 p.m., a karaoke party bus arrived in the lot, and Eldredge hopped out to greet the crowd of about 75 people daring enough to drop everything for who-knows-what.

“I feel like going honkytonking!” the 28-year-old singer announced to cheers. “Are you all ready? Let’s go karaoke!”

On the drive over to Lonnie’s Western Room downtown, amid flashing disco lights, a karaoke machine and two coolers fully stocked with inhibition-reducing beverages, Eldredge grabbed a mic and quickly got the party started. “Shall we sing a song?” he enticed.

Cue Brooks & Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road.” (“My all-time favorite band!” Eldredge declared.)

At this point, you can set aside any image you may have of the fast-rising star’s polished stage presence. Instead, this was Eldredge in full karaoke mode: alcohol-marinated and singing with complete naked-in-the-shower abandon.

Sure, there was Brooks & Dunn. But by night’s end, there was also Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?,” Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker,” and Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s “Bang Bang.” The hits just kept on coming, and more often than not, he was pulling up eager fans (with varying degrees of singing ability) to grab a microphone and join in.

The idea was cooked up by Eldredge, who divulged, as the evening unfolded, that he’s been honing his karaoke skills for eight years, ever since his college days at Middle Tennessee State University in nearby Murfreesboro. Back then, he often met up with a buddy attending Nashville’s Belmont University, and the two walked the two-and-a-half miles to the downtown karaoke bars. (Eldredge also mischievously confessed to making pit stops to pee in the bushes of the Warner Music building. “It’s huge and there are easy places to hide,” he explained, fully noting the irony that he’s now signed with the company. “I guess I was just marking my territory.”)

Though Eldredge had a considerable entourage in tow on this occasion, he said he’s just as likely to drop in on a karaoke bar on any given Monday – a touring performer’s Saturday night – and clearly he was a familiar face to the staff at Lonnie’s and the second stop, Troubadours Karaoke Bar on Lower Broadway.

“I love to show up,” he told PEOPLE. “I never sing a real serious song. You can just let loose. I love the whole concept. Sometimes you hear really good singers. Sometimes you hear really bad singers who think they’re good. I love that they think they’re good. You can be a star for three minutes.”

Except these days Eldredge is a star for much longer than three minutes. One sign of his celebrity on Monday was the fact that his hits are now banked in the karaoke machine at Troubadours. Eldredge gifted the packed house with over-the-top renditions of “Beat of the Music” and “Don’t Ya.” (For the record, he did not have to look at the lyrics on the TV screens.)

Afterward, he marveled at the discovery of this new sign of celebrity. “I used to be singing everybody else’s songs,” he said. “To go from Bob Seger to your own song in karaoke … It’s so cool.”

A little after 10 p.m., the bus loaded up for the trip back to the Warner parking lot, but Eldredge hopped off after saying his thanks. The night was still young. The clubs were still open.

Was he headed back?

Pause. Sly grin. “Probably.”