The Karaoke World Championships have begun! The qualifying rounds for the Washington State Finals were held at a different bar every day last week and will continue until Friday. The State Final will be held at the Columbia City Theater this Saturday.
He likes to sing, but he likes to watch more.
I sat in on five of the seven qualifiers last week. And while I love singing contests, I decided not to enter. Instead, I spent the last week trying to find who the real karaoke talent is to determine how I measure up. Here's the unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness journal of my thoughts as I watched--and at one locale, judged--these events.
Monday, July 12, 2010 The Atlantic Crossing
9:00pm: I got here too early. I totally forgot they take an hour for warm-ups. Once again I'm at this place and don't feel like drinking. I'll just set up shop at this table a couple seats back from the stage and not order anything unless a server approaches me. Hey, that chick I went to Shoreline with is bartending again. I think her name's Diona. Man, I remember her being cute in the face but did she always have that body? So Josh's (Washington State Director of the KWC/co-owner of Absolute Karaoke) other KJ dude is running it tonight. I guess he still has his duties at Dante's. That means I'm going to be at more of these than him.
9:05pm: That dude in his 40s in the black blazer talking to the KJ reminds me of Michael Scott from The Office. It's the hair. He totally has that Steve Carell hair going on. That blond at the table next to me is cute. Let's get a look at her friend--nope, not cute at all. The Michael Scott dude just took a seat next to me. It's packed in here. Is this seriously because of this competition? Steve Carell just asked me if I was singing and I totally stumbled on my response. Is it because deep down I feel like I'm wussing out for not entering? No, I know that's not it. They call this thing a "karaoke" contest but it really boils down to a singing competition. My voice is pretty good, but it's not cut out for this type of competition. So, this guy's name is Dan and he just told me he's innovated a "mash-up" style of karaoke. He's going to use the instrumental from one song and sing the lyrics of a different song. This Dan seems like a sweet kid but that sounds like a train-wreck of an idea.
9:15: Here we go...first warm-up of the night by a dude named Steven B. He's chosen to practice "Nothing Else Matters," a six minute song. He can handle the James Hetfield's monotone singing voice, but that's not going to win any contests. I wonder what he's going to sing for his real song--probably Metallica. Jesus this number is BORING. Oops, he couldn't hit the high part at the end. Nice, my friends Kyle and Emily are here. I totally didn't think he'd take me up on my invite. Looks like I'm drinking now. Kyle's getting a pitcher.
9:25: Let's see if this second guy, Brent L, is any better. This kid looks to be in his late 20s and is wearing a black t-shirt and shorts. Song on the screen says "Last Time." Hmm, it's by Fuel. Not a fan. This is the type of music I'd be listening to if I never snapped out of the grunge phase. Thank God I snapped out of my grunge phase. I do like that "Shimmer" song of theirs, though. I wonder what this dude thinks of Radiohead. This guy's a legitimate contender. He has the lead singer, Brett Scallion's voice down.
9:40: This singer, Mackenzie G, is cute. What style of shirt is that? Low cut with spaghetti-straps? I'll ask Emily. Oh, halter top. Yes, I love those. Shit, Kyle just bought Jager shots and we're already into our second pitcher. Hey there's that black dude, MYQUE P, I wrote about the last time I was here--one of the two singers that totally stole my thunder that night.
9:45: Dan's getting called up. "Highway to Hell" just kicked in. What song is he going to sing over it? Oh boy, he's singing the lyrics to "Running With the Devil." Nobody seems to understand what is going on. Cool he just slipped back into the actual AC/DC lyrics. Now I see what he's saying about the mash-ups. He has great showmanship. His performance isn't douchey but it is kinda rough. He better have a better mix for his real performance.
Contestant # 1: Dan W - "Bust a Move"
Dan's name got drawn first. That's the worst. The song's kicking in and he's doing the "Oy...Oy...Oy" from AC/DC's "TNT" to the opening beat. Good, he's rapping the actual Young MC lyrics to start. That totally confused the crowd during his warm-up when he sang verses to a different song. Now he's rolling. He just nailed the transition from raps, to "TNT" lyrics during the instrumental break, back into the raps. That was pretty slick. He just won me over.
Contestant # 3: Steven B - "Turn the Page"
Just as I thought, he went with another Metallica song. This is definitely better than his warm-up, but it's not getting anyone here fired up.
Contestant #4: MYQUE P - "Mr. Brightside"
I remember him pulling out these types of songs the last time I was here. He sings with a ton of fire but he's kind of out of tune. I think the judges are going to score him well. The crowd really digs the song.
Contestant #7: Jim C - "Jump Jive & Wail"
This is one of the worst songs of all time--instantly last place in my book. It doesn't even matter how good he sings it. I just told Dan W I think he's the best, so far.
Contestant #8: Konomi - "Ain't No Other Man"
This gal might be Filipino but I'm thinking she's from one of the other islands. She has good range but totally has to reach for those high Aguilera notes and it's coming off super pitchy. I think the judges are probably going to disagree with me, but this sounds like shit. So far she and Dan are my top two and no one has secured third place.
Contestant #10: Madison G - "At Last"
This one might win on hotness alone. After a slow start she really kicked it in and proved she is now the one to beat.
Contestant #11: Brent L - "Enter Sandman"
He's decided to go for entertainment value by wearing a long black rocker wig. This is not the best type of song for his voice.
Contestant #12: Mackenzie G - "It's All Coming Back to Me"
This Celine song is perfect for her voice and she's smoking hot singing it. I'm seriously starting to get aroused. This chick and Madison G are going to advance easily.
Contestant #13: Niko T - "Zero"
Is there a more annoying Smashing Pumpkins song out there? I don't think so. Does a good Corrigan but should have picked a cut that doesn't make people want to smash him in the face.
Contestant #15: Brandon S - "Wanted Dead or Alive"
This song is way too far out of this guys range. Nice, the ticker on the screen says there are only four singers to go.
Contestant #18: Freddie S - "I Wanna Make You"
This guy looks like Henry Lee Summer. He doesn't sing like him though.
Contestant #19: Matthew W - "In Your Room"
This is the other guy that outdid me the last time I was here. He kept picking good random cuts from the 80s and sang the shit out of them. I've never heard this one before. I don't think anyone else has either. He's definitively not as good as he was last time I saw him. I'm gonna come back here one night like Clark Kent did in Superman II (when he returned to the diner where that bully kicked his ass after he gave up his powers) and show him and MYQUE P who's the real boss.
11:45: The winners are Mackenzie Greenblatt, Madison Graham, & Konomi Rivers. I would have picked Dan over Konomi, but understand why the judges chose her.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010 Fourno's Greek Restaurant-Bar
9:25: First time in a karaoke bar on the Ave since 1995. This place doesn't look like a bar from the outside. Oh, nice, it's a big long space inside. Man, there's barely anyone here. I finally met Josh's KJ partner, Pat. That's some tasty looking Greek food he's eating. I haven't eaten shit all day. Maybe I should eat. Fuck it, I'll just drink at this corner stool at the bar. I should probably take advantage of this light crowd and turn in a slip before the contest starts. No pressure - I think I'll do that post-Cetera Chicago song.
9:40: I see that Brent L dude from last night is here to give it another try. His first warm-up is some song called "So Cold." It's another one of those post grunge songs. I think they still call this stuff alternative. It reminds me of "The Lost Boys" soundtrack. I can't stand this music but this guy's legitimately talented at this style of vocals.
9:35: What's the deal with the top hat on this short Filipino dude that's about to sing? He has the body of a Teletubby and he's wearing black MC Hammer pants, a black long sleeve pullover, and a backpack. He looks like an evil Leprechaun. Why does that bug me so much? It's because I know he thinks he's cool in that ridiculous get-up. He's singing "Erotic City." This song is all background vocals. He barely has to sing anything. Look at him up there trying to act all fresh. Try singing "Kiss" you little fuck and then you can act like you've accomplished something. Thank God, I'm singing next, I'm going to show this little shit what it's all about.
9:41: He just grabbed his backpack and made his way out the door just as I was called up to the stage. What a coward. He probably took one look at me and could tell I was going to blow his performance out of the water, so he split. Maybe I should sign up for this thing. Okay, shake it off, the song is about to start. "When you called me up this morning...told me 'bout the new love you found...I said I'm happy for you...I'm really happy for you." Oh yes, you've got the honey in your voice tonight, my friend. "If you see me walkin' by...and the tears are in my eyes...look away...BAABY LOOOK AWAAAY." I feel like Joe Frasier in the first Rocky. I'm the real champion doing a little cameo to promote this contest. I just nailed the ending. I could totally hear Springsteen in my head covering this song as I blasted it out. No surprise the only applause was from Pat, the judges and the people behind the bar. The contestants probably think I'm in this thing. I'd be shaking in my boots if I were them. I still can't believe that dude split.
10:00: It doesn't look like anyone else is going to make it for this contest. Where's Dan W from last night? This would be a good night for him to slip in. There's barely anyone here. I was so right what I said a couple weeks ago about the longer days keeping people out of the karaoke bars. Wow, this guy Brandon G is going to take a crack at "Eye of the Tiger" for his warm-up. Years ago, at Larry's house we established this song as being the hardest karaoke song of all time. We all took turns at the chorus and could not believe a human voice could hit those notes. This guy's actually hanging in pretty good. It still sounds like he's straining but I've never heard anyone come as close as him.
Contestant #1: Brent L - "Hemorrhage"
This song's not that bad. This is by far Brent's best performance. This guy should be in a band if he isn't already. He and Brandon are the ones to beat so far.
Contestant #2: Nicodemus - "Twist & Shout"
Well look who decided to come back. Wow, he's doing this song? I highly doubt he's going to be able to pull this off. Oh yeah, I was right. His voice sounds like an old cat getting gang raped. You can't just scream this song and expect it to sound good. Eat shit you little twerp. And look who's making a beeline for the door again. I don't blame him this time. That was painful for everyone but me.
Contestant #3: Brandon G - "Separate Ways"
Holy shit this guy has real pipes! He hit every high Steve Perry note with ease and major power. When he belted out the last two lyrics "NOOOOOOO.....NOOOOOOOOOOO!" it brought a shiver down my spine, it was that good. He is the first legitimate first male singer in this contest. Now I'm glad Dan W didn't make it in tonight.
Contestant #4: Brianna G - "White Rabbit"
This poor lady has the toughest act to follow. This song pick is horrible for this contest.
Contestant #5: Jillian L - "Alone"
Great singer. Still can't get that awesome Journey performance out of my head but she finishes strong. Watching this contest is a pleasure. I haven't been this entertained by a singing contest since Season 2 of American Idol.
Contestant #6: Jarrod A - "I Believe I Can Fly"
This black dude's voice falls short of R. Kelly's vocals the same way Konomi's did last night at the Atlantic Crossing. It's almost there but it's still off. He's working the showmanship points and that's probably going to put him over the top. I'm thinking it's going to be him, Brandon, and Brent. Three females last night and three males tonight.
Contestant #7: Christo - "Jeremy"
Sings it with a lot of heart but not quite good enough for the top three.
11:00: The winners are Jillian Lubow, Brandon Groce, & Jarrod Ammons. Jillian got first place? How did that happen? She wasn't even in my top three. I knew Jarrod would probably make it but I think Brent was clearly the third best. I just told Brent I thought he should have made it and he really appreciated it. I'm such a good guy. There's my name on the screen in a couple songs. Pat's got me set as the third singer in the rotation. That Nicodemus kid's back. He's trying to get Pat's attention but he's talking to somebody. After taking a closer look at this kid there might be something wrong with him socially. Makes me feel a little better. Sorry dude, I thought you were just being a punk.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 Kate's Pub
9:15: Those two beers I just had at Tarasco were perfect. The last time I sang on 45th was at Changes. Hopefully the women here will respond to me the same way as the guys did there. It looks like Pat's the KJ again tonight. The warm-ups haven't started yet. He's still setting up. There's Dan W (Michael Scott look-alike) from the first night sitting with Josh & Rio (KJ's with Absolute Karaoke). He's dropped the stuffy sport coat and looks sharp in that black long sleeved button down shirt. This place is packed. There's going to be a lot of contestants. Is that small table right in front of the stage really available? That's perfect. I just need to get the attention of a server. Pat just asked me if I wanted to sing. Of course I want to sing but he wants me to come up with something on the spot. My gut jerk pick is "On the Dark Side" from the Eddie & the Cruisers soundtrack.
9:30: "The dark side's callin' now nothing is real." This might be the best number I do. "She'll never know just how I feel." Look at everyone. They love it. "From out of the shadows--she walks like a dream." People get so stoked when they realize someone can really deliver the song they like. Here's where the balls kick in: "Makes me feel crazy makes me feel so mean." This is such a blatant Springsteen rip off but I love it. "Ain't nothin' gonna save me from a love that's blind. You slip to the dark side across that liiiine." Man, the sound is great in this place. "On the dark side, oh yeahhhh, On the DAAAAARK SIDE, OH YEAH. I've officially set the bar for this evening.
Contestant #1: Dan W - "Bust a Move/TNT"
They drew him first again but he seems looser. Music kicked in and I'm helping him stoke the crowd with the "Oy...oy...oy" chant. People are getting into it. Even though the rap parts aren't vocally challenging it's really tough to keep up with these lyrics. Dan's got that part down. His Bon Scott voice is coming through extra raspy tonight. The best part of the song is when he transitions from the "TNT" lyrics during the bridge back into "your best friend Harry has a brother Larry. In five days from now he's gonna marry." He totally makes it sound like a mash-up. His performance on Monday was great but his charisma really came through here tonight.
Contestant #2: Kerry M - "Not the Doctor"
This gal sounds like Avril. She's totally nailing this Alanis song but only a few scattered girls in the crowd seem to be responding. That's the problem with going with a deep track in this contest. You lose everyone who doesn't know the song.
Contestant #4 Dylan V - "Beautiful Day"
This guy is reaching the notes but his voice is not good enough to make this crowd rally for this lame U2 song.
Contestant #5: Matt T - "Cry Me a River"
This guy's trying to sing a Michael Bublé standard and he's not even close. There is no elegance to his delivery what so ever. He has great stage presence but is delusional if he thinks he sounds good.
Contestant #7: Jason C - "I Believe in a Thing Called Love"
I love to hear this song sung karaoke. This dude's around 5'5" and is wearing Buddy Holly glasses, a tight baseball shirt with black sleeves, skin tight jeans and a cap hanging backwards off the back of his head. Something tells me he's going to nail this song. Yes, his voice is totally high and he's hitting these notes with ease. He is officially my front runner of the evening.
Contestant #9: Louis K - "Go All the Way" (the Raspberries)
Hell yes! What an awesome pick. This dude looks like a young Lou Reed. I would love to be able to pull this one off but Eric Carmen's voice is about as tough as it gets. Unfortunately, it's a bit too much for him to handle, too, but he has great taste.
Contestant #10: Brent L - "So cold"
He's solid as always. It looks like after three tries this could finally be his night.
Contestant #11: Brittany F "Shoop"
This brunette with the long tan legs, white t-shirt and short plaid shorts can really move. And she's got a great smile that'll make your dick bust concrete. It's tough to score her on vocals since there's no singing in this song but I can't take my eyes off of her. She is my favorite performer of the night.
11:30: There were a lot of contestants but nobody's voice really jumped out at me here. I think I would have qualified if I'd entered. It doesn't make me wish I had, but it's good to know I could have made it into this thing. Josh just asked me if I wanted to be a judge at tomorrow's qualifier at Blue C Sushi in Bellevue and I said yes. That should be interesting.
The Winners: Brent Larson, Dan Williams, & Matt Taufausaw . I agree Brent & Dan definitely were the two most solid singers of the night but this third spot is a total toss-up. I would have advanced Brittany F or Jason C over Matt.
Thursday, July 15, 2010 Blue C Sushi - Bellevue, WA
8:30: The karaoke starts at 7 pm here in Bellevue Square. I'm taking the night off from drinking in order to judge with the full use of my faculties. This upstairs bar is a cool spot for singing. That bartender is hot like the Black Widow, Jeanette Lee. Josh just introduced me to Eli, the other guy that will be judging with us. I remember he judged last night at Kate's, too. I wonder what he thought of my performance. I don't recognize the KJ that's running things here. This room is not that big. There are like four groups sharing this big table. There's that dude (Steven B) that sang Metallica the first night at Atlantic Crossing. This small room is pretty full but it doesn't look like there are that many contestants this evening. Josh just told me there are seven people signed up.
8:40: This Indian guy singing Akon "I Wanna Luv You" is pretty damn good. I thought he was screwing around at first because it took a few verses for his voice to loosen up but he sings with true flavor. He's easily make it through here and will be a huge crowd pleaser at the big event.
8:45: Josh just showed me the scoring form. There are five categories and ten possible points to each category. The first three categories (Vocal & Sound Quality / Rhythm & Tempo / Vocal Expression) all have to do with singing ability and the last two (Stage Presence / Entertainment Value) score the singer's charisma. I though back and did practice scores from my performances at Fourno's & Kate's and wound up with a 39 & a 40.
Contestant #1: Steven B - "Born to Be Wild"
He's changed his strategy and is going with a more fun upbeat hit. He has a deep voice, he's hitting most of the notes, but nothing's totally remarkable about it. As far as vocal quality goes, it's not good enough for a 7, but a five seems too low so I'm giving him a 6. He has no problems keeping with the rhythm but this song isn't hard to hang-in with so the best I can give him is a 7. The balls of this song is belting out the "Born to be wild" part and that was just okay for me so I gave that a 6. He is working hard at dancing and staying energized so I'll give him a 7 on stage presence, but I'm not into this song. I'm giving overall entertainment value a 6. Total = 32
Contestant #2: Lisa L - "My Immortal"
This song is depressingly slow and this singer doesn't have the voice to compensate for it. I'm going to set 5 as my line between being able to carry a tune and not. She is right there. I'll give her a 6's for rhythm/tempo and expression because she knows the song well and sings with emotion but this is a horrible song choice. Stage presence gets a 5. I'm not going any lower than 4 for entertainment value because I didn't hate this song, I just thought it sucked. I'll save 3 & below for musical numbers. Total = 26
Contestant #3: Jennifer W - "Crazy for You"
Now we're talkin' - this is a slow song, too, but it's a fun one people love to hear. She can sing it really well, too. She has the same tone as Madonna. I know the females that have made it in have better voices than her but she deserves 7's for vocals, rhytmn/tempo, and expression. Stage presence and entertainment value get 7's as well. Total = 35
Contestant #4: Monty - "No Diggity"
This guy is a natural entertainer. He reminds me of Aziz Ansari but he's a little bigger and better looking. He has a totally smooth R&B voice. I'm actually pretty jealous of his flow. I have zero skills when it comes to this type of music. I would not be surprised if this guy advances passed Washington. I'm giving him three 8's for the vocal categories and 9's for presence and entertainment value. Total = 42
Contestant #5: Mandy - "To Where You Are"
I thought Lisa L's Evanescence pick was bad but this Josh Groban music is just painful. This lady's got to put a smile on her puss soon or the stage presence/entertainment points are going to drop into the negatives. Her voice is very timid, she looks distracted up there. She just turned and asked something of the KJ as the lyrics are still rolling. Whoa, she just had him turn it down a key. This is starting to get embarrassing. The lyrics are moving along and she hasn't re-joined the song. Time's standing still right now. Josh finally told the KJ to cut it and we'll start over. She just went back to her seat. Everyone is feeling pretty bad for her right now. They've decided to move on to the next singer and come back to her at the end.
Contestant #6: Izzy P - "Hurts So Bad"
This woman is nailing this Susan Tedeschi song. She just blew the room away at the "It hurt...It hurt...It hurt so bad" part. Without a doubt the strongest voice of any female that's advanced so far. I'm giving 8's down the line for the vocal categories, a 7 for stage presence, and another 8 for entertainment value. Total = 39
Contestant #7: Sam L - "Cry Me a River"
This is a tall skinny Asian dude with glasses is Monty's buddy. He looks in his late 20's/early 30's and is dressed like he just got out of the office. His features look closer to Yao Ming than Ichiro so I'm thinking he's Chinese. I didn't know what to expect from him but he is doing an amazing job with this Justin Timberlake cut. I have huge respect for these R&B guys. That's real singing to me. People are loving it. If Monty didn't steal the show Sam would have been the most entertaining of the night. I gave him a 7 for vocals, 8's for rhythm/tempo & expression, stage presence 9, and an 8 for entertainment value. Total = 40
Contestant #5 Mandy - "To Where You Are" (2nd attempt)
She makes it through this time with the song at the key she wants it and she turned out to have a really good voice. False start aside, there's no way she would have had a chance with this number. Total = 28
The Winners: Izzy Parker, Monty Singh, & Sam Loh.