Judging karaoke not that easy...



During the last week, I was asked to judge the semi-finals and finals of the Fox Icon karaoke competition being held at various Fox and Hound locations in North and South Carolina. For the semis, there were 19 competitors. For the finals, there were 9.

I won't name names or make many specific comments regarding the competitions, but I will make some general statements about how it all went — and some of these could easily apply to Battle of the Bands competitions, as well.

* Song choice is incredibly important. It was amazing how some people were fantastic on one song and, well, mediocre on the next song. Or even great one day and bad the next. Because it's karaoke and not a live band like you'd see on American Idol, you have to keep tone in mind — sure, you may be able to hit the notes in a song, but if you're not on the right key, it's going to sound pretty awful.

* Go with what you know. Another part of song choice — don't pick mellow or obscure tunes that the majority of people (and perhaps judges) won't know. Maybe the reason people don't know the song is because it sucks. Sorry...

* Audience members will scream for any big note that's held for a long time — even if the note is off key. It's bad if you're trying to find out if you can sing, it's good if you're looking for big crowd participation.

* With any competition, listen to the criteria that are being judged. With Fox Icon, it wasn't just singing. Singing was half the score, but the other half was stage presence and crowd reaction. If you sang great and had great presence but the crowd didn't care, it definitely hurt your score. At the same time, if you can't sing incredibly well, but don't stand in one spot and get the entire place to scream their asses off for you, your score will soar. We have to judge based on the criteria and be consistent about what we see and hear.

* Family and friends are great indicators that you have talent, but don't let them be the only ones you listen to. Of course mom and your girlfriend/boyfriend are going to say you're the best one to ever sing — you'd be crushed if they didn't. But listen to the other people in the place — are they clapping? Are they cheering? Look for honest opinions that don't come from relatives.

* A karaoke contest isn't Idol, but that doesn't mean you can't change things up. At the finals, one contestant chose to sing "New York, New York" — the judges cringed when the music started thinking that his voice would never pull it off. HOWEVER, the guy sang his ass off and put his own lyrical twist on the song — that's damn near impossible in karaoke, but he showed it can be done. Same music, different style.

* Only you will be judged. It doesn't matter if you changed your outfit or brought backup dancers — the judges are judging your performance... not your style, wardrobe or friends.

What would I change? I will say this — the competitors that were from North Carolina had an advantage over those from South Carolina because they weren't able to get as many friends and family to travel up to the competition. At the same time, those from Birkdale, competing in Birkdale, had familiarity on their side. Next time a competition like this is run, I'd hold the finals in a neutral location or give less weight to the crowd reaction.

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