HOUSTON – Tis the season for red-capped Santas and red-nosed reindeers. Sleigh bells ringing and snowflakes glistening. Stockings carefully hung and yuletide carols being sung ... in an airport terminal. With a karaoke machine.
Ho-ho-ho, hold that flight. There's a holiday surprise for travelers — and aspiring performers — passing through Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport this month.
There it is, just past the security checkpoint, set atop a small stage: a karaoke machine adorned with Christmas lights and stockings shaped like cowboy boots. There's even a team of Christmas elves — airport employees the rest of the year.
"A little holiday karaoke while you wait? It's fun and it's free," cooed Ashley Thompson. "You could be a star."
This is the first year the airport has included holiday-themed karaoke among its array of seasonal musical entertainment, which includes school choirs and local bands. The karaoke booth is being set up five times around the airport this month.
On a Thursday morning just after a rare snowfall had frosted Houston, the holiday spirit — or perhaps, the thrill of performing in front of strangers — was strong among airport employees and travelers with time to kill. One after another, crooners stepped up to the microphone and belted out holiday classics — each putting their own mark on the melodies.
A tiny boy in a Goofy T-shirt squeaked out a rendition of "Feliz Navidad," with his mother kneeling by his side singing harmony. A dark-haired songstress vamped her way through a coquettish "Santa Baby." A pair of blonde-haired gymnasts opened their version of "Jingle Bells" with synchronized handstands.
"I would do that but I haven't stretched yet," joked Jeff Zimbelman, 26, as he took the stage to perform "O Holy Night."
As Zimbelman's pitch-perfect voice lilted through the terminal, harried travelers rushing through metal detectors stopped, stared and smiled, and a crowd gathered around the stage.
"Doing this in the middle of an airport is kinda ... different," said Zimbelman, returning home after four months in Houston working with victims of Hurricane Ike. "But this is kind of neat. Every airport should do something like this."
Airport employee Rob Mason came up with the idea and offered the use of a karaoke machine he takes to his mother's nursing home. The silver-haired, velvet-voiced Mason also serves as emcee for the festivities, which he attends outfitted in a tuxedo and bow tie.
"It's so cool we can sing snow songs in Houston," Mason intoned as he introduced a trio of blue-suited businessman, Mike Allen, Brian Evetts and Jeff Steel. "Welcome aboard, gentleman. Welcome to the stage."
"Thumpety thump thump. Thumpety thump thump," they sang, breaking into chuckles at the lyrics. "Look at Frosty go. Thumpety thump thump. Thumpety thump thump."
"I did some coercing of my co-workers to get them up there. We don't usually do karaoke. And after other people hear us, they know why," Steel said after stepping off the stage. "This really lightens up holiday travel."
For Nancy Flood, a flight attendant for Republic Air, the karaoke was welcome entertainment as her flight to Philadelphia was more than four hours late and there was no sign it would depart anytime soon.
She settled down to watch the karaoke and signed up to sing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."
"There's no better thing I've seen in any airport, and I've been everywhere," said Flood, 48. "In this economy, there is nothing better than seeing smiles like this. It shouldn't just be for Christmas."
On the Net:
Houston Airport: http://www.fly2houston.com/