Let the inhibitions flow away (with a stream of alcohol) and let the bathroom singer in you take wing: So goes the drill on any other karaoke night at Opus, Bangalore’s charming Goan restaurant known for its live music.
But not on contest nights.
Though the mascot for KroaKing (the all-India karaoke contest organized by Opus) is a frog, croaking like one won’t get you anywhere.
That reality has struck participants such as Mrinalini Nayar, 23, who works with Deccan Cargo and is a trained pilot. Nayar is part of her local church choir and the lead vocalist of her college band in Bangalore. So one evening, while at Opus with a group of friends, Nayar couldn’t resist the itch to get on stage and hold the mic. “I don’t go out much, but on the evenings that I do, I like going out to sing,” she says. On one of these evenings, Opus noticed and asked her to take part in the contest.
It happened quite accidentally for 26-year-old Vaishnav Balasubramaniam too, who admits that he had dreams of being a rock star. Balasubramaniam and some friends had formed a band in college called Freakuency that lasted for a few years. Now, crooning to Elvis Presley’s Don’t be Cruel, Balasubramaniam doesn’t miss a beat or a word. Like a seasoned performer, he invites the crowd to join in. “It’s not about just the singing, it’s a performance,” he says.
Carlton Braganza, the owner of Opus who introduced karaoke nights at the restaurant in 2005, says there are no prerequisites for entry. “If you think you sound good in the bathroom, go for it!” he says, laughing, fully aware of the seriousness with which the contest is now taken.
What began as an in-house karaoke contest in 2006 is now organized in five places: Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Goa. Braganza also introduced “my sing-a-ling”, an online entry route that allows contestants across the country to record songs while looking at the words flash across the screen and music playing in the background.
“When the sample reaches us, it comes in a mixed form, just like we’d hear in a karaoke situation on stage,” says Braganza. Two online entries get a wild card to the finals. A grand finale will bring together contestants from each of the cities on 17 July. The contest has so far received 650 entries.
“People are looking at this as a possible career break,” he says, narrating a story about a contestant from Pune who travelled to Mumbai to take another shot at it. Braganza insists the contest is not about professional singers. “However, we do have several professional singers registering and practising hard to do well, which is flattering,” he says.
One of the professionals is Sudheep Menon. A singer, songwriter and vocalist, Menon has released an album titled Long Road from Nowhere. “So I have all these credentials, but be warned, that doesn’t make me awesome here,” Menon says. “There are these people with such big voices that if I sang the same songs that they do, I’d be in falsetto within minutes of the song,” says the 21-year-old.
The winner of the grand finale will win air tickets for two to Dubai, record a track for a music CD to be produced by Opus and get a chance to feature in Ashutosh Pathak’s (co-founder of Mumbai’s Blue Frog) next music album. A few finalists will be selected by the Kolkata-based band Skinny Alley’s lead vocalist Jayashree Singh to perform with the band.