ABC show chron­i­cles the crowning of a karaoke champ

The Daily Herald - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAC­QUE­LINE CUT­LER

Once karaoke was noth­ing more than a goof. A bunch of friends hit a bar, drank un­til in­hi­bi­tions were a mem­ory, then as friends egged them on, ap­proached the stage.

Maybe it was the loud mu­sic, maybe it was the al­tered state, but mil­lions of peo­ple over the years con­vinced them­selves that they sounded ex­actly like Pat Be­natar or Frank Si­na­tra. They didn’t. Yet some amaz­ing tal­ent, in­clud­ing Tay­lor Swift, has come out of the karaoke cir­cuit. And that struck a chord with Muriel Pearson, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of ABC’s “Karaoke Battle USA.” The show launches with a twohour pre­miere Fri­day, Aug. 12.

“I have dis­cov­ered that the karaoke com­mu­nity is a com­mu­nity, and they fre­quent bars and cre­ate so­cial net­works through this ex­pe­ri­ence,” Pearson says. “It is a so­cial net­work­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to do karaoke. It brings peo­ple to­gether.”

“The best karaoke singers in Amer­ica all know each other from com­pet­ing in these com­pe­ti­tions,” Pearson says. “It re­ally is an in­cred­i­bly in­ter­est­ing so­cial phe­nom­e­non which binds them to­gether.”

The six-episode show picks up the Karaoke World Cham­pi­onship tri­als af­ter peo­ple have been com­pet­ing for months. The judges, singer Carnie Wil­son, karaoke cham­pion Brian Scott and jour­nal­ist Joe Levy, pick one man and one woman. View­ers don’t vote.

“I love all shows like this — any show that is a singing con­test,” Wil­son says.

De­spite that she’s in a singing group, Wil­son Phillips, Wil­son ad­mits that karaoke makes her ner­vous.

“Karaoke is a lot of fun,” she says. “I have huge stage fright about karaoke, and ev­ery­body ex­pects you to be a great singer.”

As host, Joey Fa­tone’s job is “to try to make the peo­ple com­fort­able,” he says. Even af­ter the years of per­form­ing with ’N Sync, Fa­tone en­joys a good karaoke song. His fa­vorite karaoke song is “Jessie’s Girl.”

This con­test chron­i­cles how peo­ple take it to the next level with the judges ad­vis­ing them.

“I am look­ing for a man and a woman that can end up on the stage, and first and fore­most sing their tail off,” Wil­son says. “I am not look­ing for some­one that can mimic the singer of the song they chose. I don’t ex­pect some­one to get up there and sing ex­actly like Ce­line Dion or Mariah Carey.

“I am just look­ing for some­one with a re­ally great en­ergy and stage pres­ence, an in­cred­i­ble voice where they can have a strong vo­cal qual­ity and maybe some­body a lit­tle dif­fer­ent who can sing that song with their own flair,” she con­tin­ues. “It is hard be­cause karaoke is lit­er­ally singing the songs that have been recorded by fa­mous peo­ple. A lot of peo­ple in karaoke pick songs they can sing be­cause they sound like the artist.”

The vast ma­jor­ity of the con­tes­tants can sing but don’t have much stage pres­ence, Wil­son says.

The judges lis­tened to singers in re­gional con­tests in Hous­ton, Las Ve­gas, New York and Chicago.

“I would say per­cent­age-wise 10 per­cent are just ridicu­lous and clown­like,” she says. “And 25 per­cent are not very good, and 30 per­cent that have pretty good po­ten­tial and need a lot of train­ing. And then you have that 20 per­cent that is re­ally gifted.”

This does leave 15 per­cent un­ac­counted for, but Wil­son’s point is that the singers who make it as far as the re­gion­als are gen­er­ally tal­ented.

“They call me the pitch mama,” she says. “Pitch to me is ev­ery­thing. When you sing, you bet­ter be on key. I can un­der­stand a cou­ple of notes off, but you can’t sit there and hold a long note and be off key. Your scores are go­ing to get knocked down. I keep say­ing to them, ‘You have got 90 sec­onds! If you are ner­vous, put your nerves into that per­for­mance. You bet­ter do some­thing to di­vert my at­ten­tion.’ ”

Singers are judged on voice qual­ity, rhythm and tempo, vo­cal ex­pres­sion, stage pres­ence, and en­ter­tain­ment value, Pearson says.

The show part­ners with the Karaoke World Cham­pi­onship, which, Pearson says, keeps the “ex­pe­ri­ence very au­then­tic.” In ad­di­tion to rep­re­sent­ing the United States at the in­ter­na­tional con­test in Ire­land this year, the win­ner re­ceives a record­ing con­tract for a sin­gle.

“This whole competition is about real peo­ple, not wannabe stars,” Pearson says. “It’s peo­ple who just love to sing. We want to use it as a prism of look­ing out in Amer­ica. Peo­ple come from ev­ery walk of life. There is a physi­cist, a bur­lesque dancer, a lot of moms and dads, just nor­mal fam­ily folk, but they have jobs, some are stay-at-home moms.”

Carnie Wil­son is a judge on “Karaoke Battle USA,” pre­mier­ing Fri­day on Chan­nel 4.

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