Local casting-call auditions for the 2011 Karaoke World Championships began last week in Bremerton, Kirkland, and six bars here in Seattle. The top male and female singers from each of these qualifiers will move on to the Washington State Finals on Saturday, May 21 at the Columbia City Theater. The winners will advance to an out-of-state regional tournament that could eventually land them on the ABC show Karaoke Battle U.S.A.
James Munro Tech City champs Brent and Kaeli.
Throughout the year, there are other karaoke contests held at individual bars in and around town, but this KWC is the big one. I covered all but three of the tryouts last year (11 karaoke bars in 13 nights), and not only did I witness the best local talent around, I finally got to meet my community. I'd already been covering karaoke bars for almost a year before this thing came around last summer, and I seriously had no idea there were that many people as obsessed with it as me. It felt very much like the time I finally got to experience a Springsteen concert in New Jersey.
This year, since they've now spread the tryouts over three weeks, I decided to go easy and just sample a couple venues a week. Last Wednesday, I was back at The Bourbon Bar for their first qualifier. One of the judges didn't show, so I ended up filling in. I was there from the start and got to catch the singers' warm-up songs. It was pretty clear at that point who the best voices were. There were six male and two female contestants, and since they were taking the top two of each that night, the ladies automatically secured a berth. Luckily, both of them were awesome and would have been pretty hard to beat, so they definitely deserved to advance.
There were three of us judging, and we had to score the contestants from 1-10 in five categories: Voice Sound Quality, Rhythm & Tempo, Vocal Expression, Stage Presence, and Entertainment Value. The first contestant was a guy named Eric. He was in the state finals last year. During the warm-ups, he displayed his awesome vocal range singing Creed's "My Sacrifice," but for some reason decided to go with James Ingram's "Just Once" for the competition. His voice still sounded good, but the song choice was such a bore that I dinged him hard in the entertainment value category. The contestant who immediately followed, Pete, did not have nearly as good a voice as Eric, but he chose a much more energetic song that he was able to cheat his way through and capitalized on those freebee points that have nothing to do with vocal ability.
Gabi was the name of the third contestant, and she sang "Cheater, Cheater" by Joey + Rory. She was a hot, curly-haired brunette with a great country voice, and her low-cut dress was my favorite thing about that night.
The fourth contestant was my old pal, Nicodemus. I gave this kid a ton of shit during the qualifiers last year--probably more than he deserved. He just struck me as a weirdo fidget in a stupid hat, but he fought hard to make the tournament and actually delivered a solid performance that got the crowd behind him that night, and by doing so won me over too. He's sporting a much better look this year. His song was "Take On Me" and he's very interesting to watch sing, but his voice was not strong enough to advance that night.
Contestant five, Nick, was a black guy with a voice that could handle female R&B with ease. His rendition of Stephanie Mills' "Never Knew Love Like This Before" locked him in as the best male singer of the night. The best female performer, Taryn, was also African-American, and she delivered a fine performance of Alicia Keys' "Fallin'." If I could give one piece of advice to the eventual finalists, I would highly recommend that they not perform that song. It's been done to death.
This guy Eddie sang the Little River Band's "Cool Change." The other two judges liked him, but his voice sounded off to me. The last performer was a guy that went by D-MAN, and he sang "U Got It Bad" by Usher. He really couldn't carry much of a tune, but he had all the old-school Motown moves down as he sang. He put on a real show during his performance so I wound up awarding him 10 points for both entertainment value and stage presence, which really skewed the overall totals.
When we all tallied our scores, the two male performers who wound up with the most points were Nick and Pete. Josh, the host, was kind of shocked by our results, but that's just the way things happened to shake out that night.
A couple nights later I hit the Eastside qualifier at Tech City Bowl in Kirkland. My friends Juan and Kaeli were contestants, and I was there to cheer them on. I was very happy to not have to judge because every singer was good, and they were only advancing one male and one female that night.
Right out of the gate, three amazing female singers opened the night. Kaeli's performance was dynamite, but she had the misfortune of being first. I knew that among the men, one guy, Brent Larson, would be very tough to beat. He was in the finals last year and he knows what the judges look for when it comes to getting past this first part. Juan was the first guy called, and he went with his bread and butter, the Doors, delivering a solid rendition of "Love Me Two Times." He looked very comfortable onstage, and I felt his natural likability would give him a fighting chance as long as no random crazy voices entered the competition.
The guy after him was a stocky guy named Robert. I suspected he was Filipino like me, and Juan concurred, but I never got confirmation on that. If Juan wasn't in this thing, I probably would have been pulling for him. He sang the Joe Cocker version of "A Little Help From My Friends" and it was great, but it wasn't any better than Juan's number. Brent slammed the door shut on both of their hopes when he broke out the Rock Band guitar and nailed the song "Hemorrhage" by Fuel.
There were a couple more superb female contestants, but the night was capped with the best performer I'd seen yet. It was this Hispanic-looking kid named Brandon, and his voice did not sound like it should be coming from his body. It was high in this incredibly unique way, almost like he'd sucked on a helium balloon before the song started. I honestly have never heard a dude with a voice like that, but he didn't sound like a chick either. It was incredible. He sang "Hey Jude" and turned the thing into his own. I thought for sure he was going to take it, but when the judges' results came in, they still wound up going with Brent. Brent did go all the way and made sure to max out the stage presence and entertainment value points, and that's what put him over the top.
Kaeli wound up taking the women's spot. This was such a tough call--anyone could easily have made an argument for the four other ladies, but what it came down to was hotness, and she won that battle hands-down.