Janie Ummel performed Christina Aguilera's "Bound to You" during Sunday's Washington semifinals.

Image: Jaime Archer

Outside Eden Seattle, it was 1pm on a sunny Sunday and people strolled down the block with coffees in hand; inside, it was another world, one of dim lighting, technicolor lanterns, and two jumbo screens filled with lyrics. It was the Washington state finals of the Karaoke World Championship, an annual showdown of amateur singing prowess.

Karaoke might bring to mind inebriated coworkers or off-pitch renditions of “Livin’ on a Prayer,” but certainly not good singing. Yet the bar pastime has little in common with this championship.

For starters, these people actually practice. And although the lyrics were on full display, none of the competitors actually stole a glance at them. Between the drinks and the sequined outfits, it felt like a night out. But really it was more of a singing show—American Idol minus Seacrest.

On both Saturday and Sunday, over a hundred Washingtonians squeezed into the club to sing and cheer on loved ones as they took to the stage. And like American Idol, pop ballads were the theme of the competition. Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Christina Aguilera were some of the honorees. Many performances were met with standing ovations.

One of the competitors who broke the pop ballad mold was Scott Polovitch-Davis, who performed “Corner of the Sky” from the musical Pippin in honor of his ten-year-old son. Because of his musical theater background, Polovitch-Davis said, he places a lot of importance in his performance. Nobody would’ve guessed that he’s only been doing karaoke since January.

There were veterans in the audience as well, like Janie Kelly, a DJ, emcee, professional singer, and caregiver, and also a second-time participant in the competition. In fact, Washington has a pretty impressive history when it comes to karaoke. At last year’s world competition, Seattleite Chyeé Howell won gold in the female soloist division.

This year, Coreen Beckman and Ramsey Hopkins took first place at the Washington finals and will advance to August's national competition in Las Vegas.

Despite the higher stakes, there were still reminders of the karaoke you know: That moment when you walk off stage and rejoin your friends—hugs, back slaps, and kind words included—was much the same at Eden Seattle on Sunday.

“We feed off each other. It’s an awesome community. Even though it's competitive, it’s all in love,” Kelly said.

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