Every year for my wife’s birthday we throw her a huge karaoke tournament. Each year it gets bigger, badder, and more competitive. Think of it as the illegal cock-fighting circuit of karaoke–no fancy lighting system, no prompter to read lyrics off of, and no gratuitous applause from the audience. If you stink, the three judges will let you know it. Sound a little like American Idol? Too bad our karaoke tournament predates the teen-pop franchise by two years.
(left: This is what it’s all about, the coveted Karaoke Cup.)
Here’s how the tournament is set up:
There are three rounds for every game (after three games, the winners and one wildcard advance to the Championship Finale). In the first round a contestant can sing any song they want (props and costumes are highly encouraged). The second round features a Grab Bag, filled with popular songs from various genres of music, and the final round is called “Roulette,” where the final competitors choose a song for each other.
This is where the competition gets cutthroat. Each competitor runs their Roulette pick past the judges, and if the panel agrees that the song is popular enough, then they allow it. In years past contestants have either grilled pop fanatics with hard rock songs (ever see a Britney fan try to belt out an old Guns N’ Roses tune?), or have been good sports about it and gave their competition a song right down their wheelhouse (hoping their competitors would do the same for them).
This year I came into the competition as the defending champion, although I kind of lucked out last year, considering two of our most talented singing friends (Greg and Jess) couldn’t make it to the karaoke bash. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to repeat, since 3-time champion, Greg Delduca (a man who had never lost a round of karaoke in the history of our tournament), was on hand to recapture his crown.
As always, our extreme brand of karaoke brought out some memorable performances. Prof D came dressed in a black-and-white suit to deliver a soulful Blues Brothers performance. However, the judges gave him low scores, just for the fact that they were confused why he only performed John Belushi’s lyrcs, and left Dan Akroyd’s parts silent.
Brian Mendelssohn, in full Karate Kid attire, delivered an impassioned version of Joe Esposito’s “You’re The Best,” but because he only knew lyrics from the refrain, he didn’t make it past the first round.
Former champ, Dan Schweitzer breezed into the finals with a jaw-dropping performance of Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage,” which included a red cape (with a foil lightning bolt taped on the back), skinny moustache, and a tap-light jock strap.
I managed to squeak into the finals by taking a step out of my comfort zone (Beastie Boys), and doing my best Bruce Springsteen to “Dancing In The Dark.” I also lucked out in the Grab Bag round by picking No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” which I knew most of the lyrics to.
Greg plowed through the first round en route to the championship with his arsenal of 90’s-inspired dance moves as well as his spot-on, pitch-perfect performance of “It Feels Good,” by Tony! Toni! Tone!.
In the finals I was able to hang with both Greg and Dan by attempting to wow the judges with Run DMC’s tongue-twisting, “Tougher Than Leather.” My downfall in the Finale though was the Grab Bag round. Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls” did me. By the time the Roulette round came, I had enough points to eliminate Jen from the competition (only the top three advance to the third round), but it didn’t look like I’d be able to compete with Dan or Greg.
In the first Roulette pick, Dan gave Greg “Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor. He wasn’t able to sing the song word-for-word, but he did recite enough lyrics from the song (and jump-roped with the mic cord) to draw pretty big numbers from the judges. Greg then gave me Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya,” which I flubbed terribly. (I never realized how little lyrics I knew from that song until I was put on the spot.)
Drawing low scores from my “Hey Ya,” I knew my chances of repeating were done. In order to give Greg a run for his money, I decided to give Dan a homerun pitch by serving him up Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” Years earlier, Dan became karaoke legend after performing this tune theatrically–and quite amazingly–perfect.
I thought, “If Greg truly is the greatest karaoker of all-time, no challenge should be too big for him.” (Although later, I did feel guilty about doing it–Tiger Woods is the best golfer around, but who’s going to give him a two-foot putt to win the Master’s?).
Dan nailed his performance and scored high with the judges. As the final tallies were read aloud, I finished as second runner up, and Greg, who had never lost a round of karaoke in his career, finished as runner-up to Dan, who took home his second Karaoke Championship Cup in four years.
Greg and I have since made peace, but next year when the karaoke mic turns on, you can bet your britches that the karaoke equivalent of illegal cock-fighting will return to its nasty (but always fun, of course) ways!