MOSCOW – The winner of the Karaoke World Championships may not achieve world fame, but at least he or she won’t have to worry where the next meal is coming from – the top prize is 1 million Russian dumplings.
With an unusual purse like that, it’s clear that karaokists retain a sense of humor about a pursuit as derided as it is popular. But they’re also serious enough about it to have traveled from as far away as Australia and Nigeria for a three-day battle-of-the-no-bands in a Moscow banquet hall.
The first night of the competition Thursday seems to show that karaoke is at a tipping point. It’s gone far beyond caterwauling in front of a group of sozzled buddies and regretting it the next morning; most of those on stage here have serious pipes and carefully worked-out moves. Yet it retains the casual camaraderie of a barroom at midnight.
“It’s a contest, yes, but it’s more like a family,” said Atte Hujanen, managing director of the Finland-based KWC Organization that is the equivalent of a sports governing body.
Hujanen posited that a penchant for intensity makes karaoke especially appealing in propriety-intensive countries such as Japan, where it originated, and his homeland, where six of the eight world championships have been held.
“People in Japan and Finland, it’s in our nature that we’re pretty shy,” he said. With karaoke, “we can sing a heartbreaking ballad and then shut up again.”
The organizer of the competition, Alexander Shamaev, said, “The goal for us is the unification of the entire planet under the banner of karaoke. We hope it will become the most massive sport on the planet.”
The competition concludes Saturday with the final round after two days of preliminaries. The audience will vote on which contender deserves the dumplings.