The wait list for training under karaoke Jedi master Michael Yelvington is far longer than getting decent tickets to Hamilton.
Nevertheless, the sought after Director of the Karaoke World Championships (of course you’ve heard of that) finally caved and agreed to let us interview him about the ways of the force. All it took was locking him in a room, having a few whiskey sours and putting “Take Me Home, Country Road” on repeat for a few short hours. The following is a conversation between Whalebone Magazine and Mr. Yelvington about the many good nights that start or end with karaoke.
What is your name and title?
How did you get involved with karaoke at this level?
I have been in the industry for 25 years as a distributor, later as producer of content, and in 2012, began as director and host of the Karaoke World Championships International singing competition.
They say you should not judge a book by its cover, and the same is true in karaoke.
Where did karaoke come from in the first place? The origin and history?
It originated in Japan in 1971. Karaoke means “empty orchestra” in English. It began when a Japanese man created a sort of cassette boombox with microphone inputs and printed lyrics.
We ask you to judge a karaoke night at our favorite local dive bar. What are the three things you’re looking for?
Singing ability (can they actually hold a note), stage confidence, fun factor (are they having fun) and is the crowd into it.
Okay, actually four but we’ll let it slide. What would you say is the guaranteed song to win the crowd for someone that might not have a “go-to” karaoke song?
“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. All day long.
Biggest mistake someone can make when singing karaoke at their local dive bar?
Singing a really depressing song and singing it badly.
How many songs should someone sing a night? What is proper karaoke etiquette?
Depends on how busy they are and how good you are as a singer. Most KJs (Karaoke hosts) are careful to give everyone a fair chance to sing.
What countries, besides the U.S., do you think own karaoke the best? Who does it right and why?
The Finnish people are the most enthusiastic karaoke singers I have seen. In Asia, they like to sing in private rooms. In Finland, there are more karaoke bars and dive bars per capita than anywhere else. They are a rather introverted culture, so a few drinks and karaoke is what many like to do for fun.
The fact is that singing itself is one of the things that distinguishes us from the rest of the creatures on earth.
The best thing you have seen karaoke related in all your years on watching and being in the business?
They say you should not judge a book by its cover, and the same is true in karaoke. I love it when an older person totally surprises a crowd with a song choice that is completely unexpected and they kill the song. I saw an 82-year-old guy sing Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” and had the crowd going crazy. Apparently, he even went on America’s Got Talent later with that song.
What would you tell someone who has never sung karaoke in front of a crowd?
Just imagine you are at home and singing for your friends and family and have fun.
Can you tell us a little about KWC? Who can enter? How it works?
The competition started in 2003 in Finland with representatives from seven countries. It is open to anyone who is an amateur singer who wants to begin a career as a singer. We have over 25 countries competing for the title, prizes and an all-expense-paid trip to the following year’s finals to be a guest performer. The event is streamed live as well as covered by TV in various countries. Each participating country holds regional and then national competitions to send their two contestants to compete over three days. We have a YouTube channel with performances from contestants that illustrates how seriously they take it. Several champions have gone on to professional careers.
Anything else you would like to add before we both go on stage?
Karaoke is the hobby that many people don’t want to admit to. The fact is that singing itself is one of the things that distinguishes us from the rest of the creatures on earth. We are born with the ability, whether we are good at it or not. It is therapeutic, it is fun and makes us feel good. So it’s no wonder karaoke continues to grow in popularity.