With all the popular singing competition series on television like "American Idol" and "The Voice," it seems like a karaoke-based series is long overdue but that absence is remedied with the debut of "Karaoke Battle U.S.A.," which launches tonight on ABC. In the series, the best karaoke singers in the country (and some that are far from the best) come together to compete for a recording contract, the titles of King and Queen of Karaoke and a trip to compete in the Karaoke World Championships in Ireland later this year.
Along with a judges' panel that is made up of singer Carnie Wilson (Wilson Phillips), music journalist Joe Levy (Rolling Stone) and former Karaoke champ Brian Scott is host/former *NSync member Joey Fatone, who laid out the six-episode show for our Jim Halterman as well as talked about the fun tone of the show and whether hosting competition series and game shows is as easy as he makes it look.
Jim Halterman: First of all, how did you get involved?
Joey Fatone: I lost a bet. [Laughs.] No, really, what happened was they approached me about hosting the show and told me it's called 'Karaoke Battle U.S.A.' and there's an organization called the Karaoke World Championships [KWC] which I actually knew about because my sister entered in the contest five or six years ago and made it to the State Finals so I knew exactly what they're doing. Then, ABC News did a story on karaoke and this was something that they wanted to do to bring more awareness by airing the competition and making the stakes a little bit higher like getting a recording contract with Hollywood Records but to get to be a U.S.A. representative to perform and, hopefully win, the world championship which is going to be in Ireland.
JH: We've all done karaoke and it's usually just a fun time with friends but there's always that one person who can just belt out a song. Is that who we see on the show?
JF: Exactly. It's great because it goes through a different process as far as the smaller competition with contestants in bars competing and then it goes to the regionals and semi-finals and the finals. We take you along on that journey with some of these people. Maybe it might be their dreams to become an artist or it's something they did on a dare or it's a stress release to forget their troubles but it's all different walks of life on the show.
JH: Is it safe to say that this will be like other competition shows in that the viewers will get hooked on their favorites and come back to see what happens with them?
JF: I sure hope so! Honestly, I haven't seen a whole episode yet but it's so interesting that this karaoke organization, the KWC, gets people into the regionals and people will try over and over again. It's really cool to see that and see what a big following karaoke really has.
JH: I saw some of the clips online and some of the contestants have amazing voices! Were you just as surprised as how good some of them were?
JF: It's funny because I get to interview the people before they go up on stage and when I talk to them sometimes they're really shy and then they're absolutely amazing. Or there are the ones who are really, really confident and then they choke on stage because they're so nervous. Others are just like 'Oh, okay' and then they really wow them! It's really amazing what talent is out there. One guy was just a guy who grew up on a farm and when you see his performances you say 'What?! Where does that come from?' It's really great.
JH: And I'm guessing there are some people who may not be the best singers but are just fun and entertaining, right?
JF: Exactly. You'll see a lot of that and a lot of them win the audience over by their stage presence and how they captivate an audience. But then it's funny because then you get some people who aren't the best singers but they are the ones who won their local area. Can you imagine what the other ones in their area probably sounded like? They were probably worse! With some of them it's like, 'How did you win this?' Some people also come on and they look like they're a big joke but they're taking it real serious! It almost looks like it's fake.
JH: Tell me what each person on the judges' table brings to the show.
JF: For many years Joe Levy was an editor over at Rolling Stone. He's very knowledgeable on every aspect of every genre of music. He's also pretty much interviewed everybody. He has a great sense of humor and is just so knowledgeable about everything. He'll tell people not to sing just like the record but to try to make it your own. He gives those little tidbits. Then there's Carnie Wilson, of course, from Wilson Phillips and she's a spitfire. We call her the 'Pitch Mama' because she really tries to listen to make sure there's no bum notes anywhere. She could also be the 'Bitch Mama' sometimes in terms of judging people! Then we have Brian 'The Cowboy' Scott, who is a Country & Western singer and he won the 2009 championship and he was #6 in the world. He really knows this competition and knows what it takes to get there and he tries to help them out in any way he can to help them win the whole thing and take the competition.
JH: From the clips I saw of the show, it seems like the tone is more fun than serious.
JF: Some of the bits are heartfelt but as far as the performance and the critiques we try to keep it fun. We're not trying to kill people's dreams but the judges are there to critique them and let them know what they're doing wrong and hopefully try to help them. It's not just 'You're terrible! Next!' It's more about 'You know what? You can be better if you practice pitch or you have more stage presence.'
JH: Did anyone try to get you up on stage at all, Joey?
JF: Hopefully they won't show it but every show they would try to get me up there and dance and I say no but in an LA show, I did do a chorus dance with one of the contestants.
JH: Were there any *NSync songs sung by contestants on the show?
JF: No because they basically had to clear the music and I guess the record company wouldn't clear anything but maybe next season we can see if we can get some of those.
JH: You've been doing a lot of hosting of shows over the years and you make it seem really easy and so natural. Is it easy for you or is it more work than it appears?
JF: There is a lot of work behind it and I just try not to show that there is. I wouldn't say it's easy but it's something that I seem to have a knack for. What you see with me is what you get and I'm not trying to fake anything. I just have fun and I'm serious when I need to be serious and I'm positive when I need to be positive. It's all fun.
"Karaoke Battle U.S.A." airs Fridays at 9:00/8:00c on ABC.