So I mentioned a while back about how karaoke brings people together. I wasn’t lying.
Friday was the semifinal round of the China International Publishing Group’s karaoke competition. I thought it was actually the final round, so I had planned to practice a lot, choreograph a little dance or whatever and just rock out. Those plans never really materialized. The first round a few weeks ago was really laid back, so I kinda thought this was gonna be the same kind of thing – just a few people in a dark room with a little karaoke machine and some food. I wound up not really practicing or anything and I just went to work in a UNC t-shirt and some jeans.
So Joh and I left the office after lunch and met with Li Shao, a really sweet girl we work with. She was our escort to the CIPG headquarters building, where the competition was going down. We had to take a cab across town to this kinda crappy looking building, which, of course, had four security guards in front of it. I swear half of China’s employed citizens are security guards. We walk in and there are these banners in the lobby advertising the CIPG celebrity contest or whatever they were calling it. There was a list of something like 100 names on it – all the people who were competing. I kinda got the feeling that this was a bigger deal than I had thought.
We walk through the lobby and up a little staircase and Li Shao points off to the right and says, “This is the dressing room.”
Yes, there was a dressing room.
In it, people are wearing these fancy dresses and stuff. There’s a guy in there doing makeup for a few of the girls. A bunch of people are standing around in suits and gowns. There I am with some grubby jeans and a gray shirt. I was a little surprised. Then this strange woman just says “Hi, Chris.” This really freaked me out at first but then I realized I was the only American in the competition, so it really wasn’t all that weird. The 19 emcees come over and ask me if I want to rehearse.
I kinda realized this was a little bigger than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t want to rehearse, but I did look at the stage and the auditorium. The stage had all these crazy lights and this enormous red backdrop advertising the third annual CIPG idol contest or something. There were about 400 seats or so in the auditorium and a couple of high-end video cameras set up in the aisles. I seriously thought this was going to be in an empty boardroom with a Casio boombox and 10 people hanging out. Not quite…
Anyway, the competition starts at 2:00 and the seats are pretty full. Most of the performers are wearing jeans and stuff, so I start to relax a little. There were actually some really good singers in the competition. But here’s the thing – and this is great advice if you ever happen to be involved in a corporate karaoke competition with a bunch of Chinese people – they don’t really perform. There’s no motion or dynamism to their routines. So you have to exploit that if you want to win. Oh, and Chinese people seem to really love volume in their karaoke. The louder, the better.
Friday’s competition – the semifinals were actually done over several days – featured about 40 singers. There was a 20-minute intermission in the middle. I was the ninth person to go after intermission. I was feeling pretty good, sure that the fact that I was gonna dance around a little would make up for my lack of singing ability. Being the only American in the competition was sure to help also.
My song was “Down on the Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I wanted something upbeat but not too hard to sing. While the eighth person on the lineup was walking on stage, I rolled backstage to get ready. One of the emcee’s was back there and he actually spoke English.
“You nervous?” he asked.
“Yeah, a little.”
“You will be fine.”
“Thanks,” I said.
Pause. I was kind of bouncing on my heels to work off nervous energy while I went over the lyrics in my mind. Rooster hits the washboard…Blinky thumps the gut bass…
“I love American music.”
“Oh yeah?” I responded, still bouncing.
“Yeah. Michael Jackson. He’s the best.”
“I like American rock and roll too,” he continued.
“Yeah? You ever heard of the song I’m performing?”
No love for CCR over here. Anyway, number eight wraps up and one of the other 18 emcees starts introducing me. I go out on stage and people immediately start clapping for the white guy. I say “Ni hao” (hello) to them and they all yell it back to me. The real winner though was that I pulled out my camera and took a picture of everyone in the crowd. They really ate that up.
“That’s for my mom,” I said. I’d bet about four percent of the people there understood that.
The song starts and I start clapping to the beat. Everyone starts clapping along. The guitars kick in and I start jumping and people are going nuts. I start singing and I can barely hear myself. So, I start singing louder. By the time I get to “courthouse,” the 12th word in the song, my voice starts cracking like ice in hot water. I’m literally screaming into the mic, people are waving their hands, I’m jumping up and down, camera flashes are blinding me, I still can’t hear myself singing… I don’t remember much, except for thinking about how terrible it must have sounded.
I walk off the stage and a girl gives me flowers. Another colleague of mine is at the bottom of the stairs and she gives me a high five. I can’t even talk anymore. I go to sit down and one of the emcees takes my flowers away(!). A couple of minutes later, after a few other people have sung, they reveal my score. 97.12, which puts me in the lead. This guy who works downstairs from me went a couple of spots after me and he came in second. He and I will go on to the finals next Tuesday.
I’ll admit it – I was absolutely, undoubtedly, irrefutably the worst singer out there that day. I think taking the picture helped, as did the jumping/dancing. Being the only non-Asian person helped a lot too.
I want to make sure that my performance for the finals is so good that if I win, it won’t be because I’m a foreigner, but because I smoked it. So I’ve spent a couple of hours today checking out songs on the Internet, trying to find the perfect song that I can boogie to while at least putting down a respectable vocal performance.