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Karaoke queen

By day, Ann Geiszler volunteers at church, serves on the board of her condo building and plays the piano at area retirement homes. She's a slender, delicate lady, with thin-rimmed glasses and snow-white hair, who's easily flustered by compliments.

By day, Ann Geiszler volunteers at church, serves on the board of her condo building and plays the piano at area retirement homes. She's a slender, delicate lady, with thin-rimmed glasses and snow-white hair, who's easily flustered by compliments.

But some nights and the occasional afternoon, the Moorhead woman becomes the fun-loving, outgoing Annabel, who basks in the spotlight. As Annabel, Geiszler, 78, is a bona fide celebrity on the area karaoke circuit and a fixture of karaoke Saturdays at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, Minn.

Geiszler's first claim to vocal fame was her community center rendition of "Away in a Manger" at age 3. Then, she shied away from performing in public for some 70 years, including almost a year as a stage-frightened spectator at karaoke establishments. Then, "I finally got the nerve to get up and sing a little bit," she says, with her trademark offstage modesty.

The rest is Fargo-Moorhead karaoke history.

Says Geiszler's daughter, Dina Geiszler, who hired a karaoke DJ for her wedding next summer, "She is the epitome of how to enjoy yourself at any age and how to remain positive even during tough times."


On a recent Thursday night at the Moorhead VFW, Geiszler was gearing up for the first of three karaoke gigs that week. At a table right across from the small stage, she sat with friend and duet partner Ole Kjonaas, his son Richard and his daughter-inlaw Karen.

(Karen is one of a few karaoke newbies Geiszler had mentored on their first timid steps into the genre.)

Unlike many singers who conjure up their onstage alter egos with a drink or two, Geiszler sipped on cranberry juice and 7-Up and calmly awaited her turn at the mike. As regulars filtered in, they stopped by her table and greeted her by "Annabel."

Finally, the emcee took the stage, announcing to hearty applause, "We're going to start the night out with the lovely Annabel."

Annabel was "born" about five years ago, shortly after Geiszler first took the karaoke stage.

'Somebody else'

"I could feel it was somebody else up there singing," she says of her feisty stage persona.

About a year after the death of Geiszler's second husband, Ray, a group of neighbor ladies lured the Bottineau, N.D., native out of the house on what would become regular trips to local karaoke temples. Convinced she was a less-thancompetent singer, she clung to her seat.


She finally ventured onstage with several lady friends, an outfit they later dubbed the Foggy Bottom Girls, a twist on the fictitious all-male Depression-era band featured in the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

After an amiable split with Foggy Bottom, she launched her solo career with a take on Guy Mitchell's late '50s classic "Heartaches by the Number." She stayed faithful to the oldies during her ascent to local karaoke stardom.

Before long, the once bashful Geiszler was taking the stage in a long blond wig and a Tshirt with a bikini emblazoned on the front to belt out her spirited version of "Did I Shave My Legs for This?"

Another great musical fit for the sassy Annabel is "What Part of No (Don't You Understand)," originally by country songstress Lorrie Morgan.

"If people aren't singers, they treat you like a star sometimes," says Geiszler, who for 30 years held a low-profile job with Concordia College's dining service.

Annabel's star power peaks on the big stage at the Shooting Star, where she and Kjonaas perform weekly. There, they've won a loyal following with memorable duets, from "All in the Family" to "Those Were the Days." The two have been known to fret if other singers snatch one of their signature hits, which Kjonaas, 78, has listed in a tiny dog-eared notebook so he doesn't have to look up their numbers in karaoke books.

Taking nostalgia trips

When she had a pacemaker installed this fall, Geiszler's family admonished her to take a week's break from her Mahnomen routine. She stayed behind reluctantly, and Kjonaas delivered a "Get Better Soon" card from the resident Elvis impersonator and the rest of the casino's karaoke regulars.


Richard Kjonaas says the key to the pair's success is their knack for triggering nostalgia trips. "The songs they get up and sing send in a flood of memories," he says. But Geiszler herself thinks it might be a more subtle message ringing in the duet's renditions of the evergreens: "They think that maybe they can do it, too, when they get to be our age."

On the VFW stage, Geiszler opts for guaranteed crowdpleaser "Did I Shave My Legs," performed in her crystalline, youthful falsetto. She grips the mike in one hand and chops the air with the other, as the song's protagonist gets increasingly exasperated with her lover.

Then, she takes her seat again and hums softly to other singers' performances. That's until Kjonaas requests a dance to "When a Man Loves a Woman" and the two hit the dance floor, cheek to cheek.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

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