DJ Cougar has been DJing 35+ years and has been a Karaoke DJ for 18 of those years. He’s played 1,822 shows (not including private events), and yes, he keeps track! Will we ever know the truth behind his DJ name and staple bandana fashion? Wayne Smith, aka DJ Cougar, shares tales of what it takes to be a Karaoke DJ, the most popular and dreaded song requests, and how Karaoke can boost your confidence.
There’s Just One
At last! Tell us where, when, and how Wayne Smith became DJ Cougar? And when did your infamous fashion staple, the bandana, become a tradition?
The name DJ Cougar was bestowed upon me while I was in the Army stationed in Washington, DC. There are many stories behind the origin of the name. My favorite is that I won the lawsuit against John Cougar Mellencamp and got my name back.
The bandana originated in high school and returned in the early/mid-’90s while working in a kitchen in Raleigh, NC. I ended up with what was known as the Budweiser collection, which I referred to as my corporate sponsorship. After moving to Boston in ’96, Harley Davidson replaced Budweiser. The bandanas with my logo finally came in 2008.
There are many people afraid of karaoke. Do you think karaoke helps self-confidence? Do you have any stories of a shy person evolving into a confident, karaoke superstar?
Once you start with karaoke, you’ll either love it or hate it. Most people get hooked after doing a couple of songs with friends and then go solo. It’s an adrenaline rush when the crowd cheers for you. I would say that yes, karaoke does help with self-confidence. I’ve watched a few people through the years go from timid and shy on the mic to belting out songs you wouldn’t imagine them trying. Nobody has risen to “Karaoke Superstar” status, but some have become extremely good. The “Superstars” usually have a musical background (high school, theater, etc.) by the time I meet them. Regardless of singing capabilities, my shows are for everyone to have fun.
What are the top 3 most requested songs? What are the top 3 most dreaded songs requested?
The most requested songs change over time. Currently, it’s Mr. Brightside – The Killers, What’s Up – 4 Non-Blondes, and Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen. The dreaded 3 for me are anything by a boy band, Piano Man – Billy Joel, and Love Shack – B-52’s.
Do you think people assume being a Karaoke DJ is easy? Take us through a busy night and share just how much skill, work, and patience it takes to be successful in this particular genre of entertainment.
Most people think it’s easy, and they don’t realize how much is involved with running a show. We are averaging 54 songs during a 4-hour show at Flask, which is high speed. Most hosts would lose their minds trying to handle the large rotations. I’ve been doing this for so long that it has become second nature to me, although I do admit to having meltdowns.
Once the show starts, it’s not unusual for people to turn in requests all at once. I try to keep them in order while adding songs to the queue and bringing singers to and from the stage. Add in trying to keep audio levels balanced between music and microphone and lining up bumper music (songs between singers). And of course, having conversations with people to make sure everyone’s happy.
It’s not unusual for us to have 18-30 singers in rotation (90 – 150-minute wait to sing). Figuring out the rotation and explaining how long the wait is can be overwhelming. If you want to sing early, I always suggest arriving early to shows. I do keep a list of courtesies in front of my songbook (containing 45,000 songs to choose from) to explain how the show runs and how people can help keep it moving, but nobody reads it.
Has karaoke changed over the years? If so, how?
The popularity of karaoke usually runs in 2-3 year cycles. We’ll have groups of regulars that come out for that period of time and then fade away, but typically a new group is already coming in when that happens. The most significant change in the past decade has been the move from CDs to digital (laptop). I remain old school with the use of paper slips. It saves me from trying to hear names and requests in a lively environment.
Do you envision retiring from karaoke or DJing in general?
I semi-retired in the early ’90s but ended up DJing again regularly by the end of the decade. It would be nice to retire from karaoke (I enjoy DJing too much to leave it behind), but it’s been paying my bills for more than a decade, and I don’t envision retiring anytime soon.
What’s something few people know about you, including friends and family?
The real story behind my DJ name. There are a couple of people who have figured it out, but if I told you, it would no longer be a secret. 🙄
How can people connect with you?
- You can catch me at Karaoke at Flask Lounge every Thursday at 8 pm – 1 am.
- The last Saturday of every month I’m hosting an 80’s Retro Themed night with a select rotation of other DJs and Residents.
- Opening for Flask’s 12 Year Anniversary Party on Saturday, November 9th.
- I frequent Open DJ night on Tuesdays, where I play random genres.