In a figure-hugging sparkly dress, Val Monique tears around the stage, whipping up the crowd as she channels her inner Tina Turner and belts out Proud Mary.
Monique is Panama’s representative in the Karaoke World Championships, one of 40 amateur warblers selected from 30,000 entrants for the competition, which is being held this year for the first time in its spiritual home: Japan.
Accountants, teachers and economists from as far afield as the Faroe Islands, Guatemala and Brazil are battling for the prestigious title of the world’s best karaoke singer in the competition run since 2003.
Like everyone around the world who has ever grabbed the mic, for a brief time under the spotlight, the contestants found their 15 minutes of fame.
“Karaoke can make everyone feel for one moment like a professional. Only karaoke can give you those few minutes of glory on the stage,” said Vladyslav Karasevych, a contestant from the Ukraine.
Resplendent in a black and white Harlequin outfit and white hat, and proudly waving a Ukrainian flag, Karasevych introduced his compatriots, including a woman dressed like Hatsune Miku, a Vocaloid character with long blue ponytails and a miniskirt.
“Karaoke makes us happy. He is an economist, I am an accountant and she is a teacher, and we today stand on the stage like professionals, like stars,” he said.
Among the karaoke classics featured on Thursday were Spandau Ballet’s Gold (sung by the Finnish entrant), Queen’s The Show Must Go On (Britain’s entry) and You’ll Never Walk Alone — interpreted by the contestant from the Philippines.
The annual Karaoke World Championships were first held in Finland in 2003, the brainchild of a Finnish company.
The final contestants were selected from about 30,000 applicants across the globe, said Daiichikosho, a Japanese karaoke company backing the event.
The selection process differs from country to country, but in Japan, the company asked wannabe competitors to upload their singing performances at karaoke parlors, Daiichikosho official Kikumi Onchi said.
About 2,200 people applied just for Japan, considered the home of karaoke — a word that means “empty orchestra” in Japanese — and where the concept was born about 50 years ago.
“We listened to each one of the songs, selected several singers for regional competitions and picked the final four singers for the world championships,” Onchi said.
One of the lucky Japanese contestants, Yuji Ogata, told of his delight at performing before an audience “at home” after he belted out Ai No Sanka, the Japanese version of the Edith Piaf classic L’hymne a L’amour (Hymn to Love).
“This time the championships are taking place in Japan, which is exciting as a Japanese person. I myself thought the world championships was a far-fetched dream, but here it is happening in Tokyo, Japan,” Ogata said.
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