Karaoke World Championship Qualifiers Shift to the North End in Run-Up to Columbia City Finale

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Jay Munro
For Juan, competition takes a back seat to fun.
I checked out a couple more Karaoke World Championship qualifiers last week. Monday at the Atlantic Crossing in Roosevelt was a rocking Thursday-night atmosphere, as it usually is. There were a lot of contestants and some decent female performers, but only one singer from last year returned, which kind of bummed me out. This place has some regulars with great voices, but they didn't show.

It still ended up being a fun night. None of the male contestants' voices really jumped out at me, but a couple of them were entertaining. The guy from last year, Bruce, who sings a dead-on Brian Johnson, qualified with an AC/DC number again. My favorite performance of the night was the bartender Dionna's very pretty rendition of "Smile" by Lily Allen. She wasn't in the contest, but it was hands-down the best song choice of the night.

On Wednesday, my buddy, Juan, who was unsuccessful qualifying the week before at Tech City Bowl in Kirkland, was going for it again at Kate's Pub in Wallingford. We broke down his game plan at our friend Tony's birthday gathering at Tarasco Mexican Restaurant (and weekend karaoke bar) beforehand. Juan decided earlier that day to sing "That's All" by Genesis. I thought it was a great call, because it's a rarely requested number with a cool familiar beat, Phil Collins' vocals never get too crazy, and if he delivered it with some attitude, he would probably score easy stage presence and entertainment value points from the judges. We went over the lyrics and he had those down, so I felt optimistic about his chances.

About an hour before we moved on to Kate's, I was kicking back enjoying selections I called up on the Tarasco jukebox. As Elton John's "Levon" played overhead, I noticed the girl sitting next to me singing along. We ended up chatting for a bit. Her name was Riana, and she told me she was about to make her move to Goofy's, which was her regular spot for karaoke on Wednesday nights. I told her about the qualifier at Kate's, and she was all over it. She showed up around the same time Juan and I got there.

Juan switched from beers and margaritas to double whiskey-and-Cokes. It didn't seem to faze him, but I was concerned it could affect his performance. Too much booze can drain the ability to emote. Riana, after turning in her song choice to the judge, came and sat with us. She told me she was going to do Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You." I had no idea what kind of skills she had, but that choice told me she probably had a good voice. She was kind of unsure about the song because she was also thinking of singing "Oh Darling" by the Beatles. I should have kept my mouth shut, but I was drunk. I told her if she had the ability to reach that high McCartney octave, to go for it. I thought it would be more impressive because Alicia Keys is way overdone in these contests. She went back to the judge to change her song and he told her not to. He said the Keys song would be better. This really got her confused. I told her if the judge says to stick with Alicia Keys, go with what he says. But I thought it was odd that a judge would be giving any type of advice.

They were advancing two males and two females that night. The second contestant, Mike, set the bar for the men with a solid rendition of the '70s classic "Drift Away" by Dobie Gray. He was followed by a couple forgettable performances, and then came Riana. She nailed it. Her voice was good and soulful, but Pat, the KJ, told me she needed to work on her stage presence. I thought she looked very confident onstage, but that's the problem with choosing those slow songs. There isn't much you can do to enhance the performance visually.

Juan followed her, and just as I had feared, the booze had left him somewhat dead on his feet. I could see exactly what he was going through as he was singing. The verses moved pretty fast, and he was focused on keeping up and was not able to cut loose. There was still a chance because he never messed up and the judges seemed to enjoy it, but a couple late performances dropped him in the standings. He didn't care. He was having a great time. When the results came in, Riana placed easily. I'm very proud to be the one responsible for bringing her into this competition. Saturday night is the big local finale at the Columbia City Theater.

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