It may be Japan's favorite pastime, but more than thirty-five years after it arrived in the U.S. as a flash in the pan, karaoke is still a craze among Americans. At least 100,000 bars now host karaoke at least once a week, with an estimated 15 million Americans singing karaoke at least once a month. In recent years, online karaoke channels like Karaoke Lounge and dozens of mobile karaoke apps and video games have made it easier for karaoke addicts to channel their inner rock star, crooner, or diva at any time from anywhere.
And karaoke is not just popular with wannabe singing stars: the popular karaoke website karaoketraveler.com posts pictures and videos of celebrities singing karaoke, from "A list" actors like Jude Law and Angelina Jolie, to the often mocked former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who is ironically shown gyrating on stage to a karaoke version of Elvis Presley's "Treat Me Nice."
While Blagojevich will probably not turn his karaoke dreams into a singing career, megastars in the music industry like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood reportedly began their careers singing karaoke. That fact is not lost on the contestants appearing later this month on the first network television series devoted entirely to karaoke. "Karaoke Battle USA" on ABC follows everyday Americans across the country competing in a karaoke sing-off. Unlike reality shows like "American Idol" and "The Voice," which created singing competitions for television, producers of the upcoming "Karaoke Battle USA" wanted to document what goes on behind the scenes and on-stage at the nation's most prestigious karaoke competition.
Wendell Payne, President of Karaoke World Championships USA, says this year's competition is turning out to be the most competitive since KWCUSA began sponsoring the annual event in 2007. "With the television cameras trained on the singers, we're seeing a whole new level of talent turn out, and some of the contestants are blowing it out of the water," says Payne.
At the culmination of the ABC series in September, one male and one female contestant will be named America's Karaoke King and Queen. In addition to the title, the winners will also receive a recording contract and a trip to Killarney, Ireland to represent the U.S. at this year's World Karaoke Championships.