Music — Searching for Empire Idol 

Searching for Empire Idol

By Seth Hoy

Queen City lounge seeks karaoke’s best and loudest

Far, far away from Simon Cowell’s brutal British honesty, Paula Abdul’s incoherent babble and Randy Jackson’s “It was aight, bro — just aight,” are Manchester’s cream of the karaoke crop. 

Would-be singers big and small, young and old, were huddled around tables with friends and family on Wednesday, April 27, flipping through karaoke song books and waiting for their chance to qualify for the final round of the Empire Lounge’s Empire Idol contest.

The Empire Lounge at 140 Queen City Ave. has been holding qualifying rounds every Wednesday night for its American Karaoke Contest since early January. Club owner Laura Athanasi, veteran DJ Dorian and a rotating panel of judges have heard the good, the bad and, yes, the ugly sing karaoke for a chance to win the Empire Idol’s grand prize of $1,000.

 “We have people coming from everywhere” Athanasi said, “Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. They really came out of the woodwork for this one. We have people who come out for karaoke all the time and you see the same people. They really love their karaoke. We just wanted to do something fun.”

The judges picked around 36 contestants — three qualifying semi-finalists each week — over a 12-week period. The semi-finalists were split into two groups and the semi-final rounds were held on Wednesday, April 20 and Wednesday, April 27. Results will be announced here next week.

“Everyone wants to be a star,” DJ Dorian said. “People grow up watching bands and this contest is just a way for them to recapture their own dreams of stardom. For some people, this is all they have.”

Tab Colby, 39, of Franklin, not only believes he will be the next Empire Idol, but that his age is his only handicap. He’s been singing for 12 years because he loves it. Last Wednesday, Colby was dressed in a leather vest and spiked his hair a la Billy Idol.

“I’m too old to be on American Idol,” Colby said, “but I think I have a better voice than most of them on there. I also have a voice and energy no one can match. I play to the crowd and get them involved.”

But since Simon Cowell isn’t judging this competition, we’ll just have to settle for Bev Valentine, radio host for WJYY 105.5 F.M. Other judges included rocker/singer-songwriter Dave Clark of Bedford and singer/entertainer Jaime Taylor of Derry.

“We’re looking for a few things here,” Valentine said. “First, singing ability — whether they can carry a tune or whether it can be in tune. Then appearance — eye contact, they way they perform. You know, Hollywood direct. If people want to go into this contest and win $1,000, they have to give us something to look at. The audience’s reaction was also important. But the main deciding factor was whether or not they can sing.”

Courtney Ball, 26, of Concord, qualified last week for the Empire Idol final competition. Ball, who also goes by MC-QT when she raps, idolizes Eminem and admits to being a “secret-singer” in the shower and car.

 “I love singing,” Ball said. “It’s so awesome. I’ve gotten into different finals at contests before — I’m in finals at two other karaoke contests in Nashua and Concord. I’m just my own person up there, you know? I do rap, R&B and Eminem. I can do country or Roberta Flack. I just love music.”

When you think about it, there’s actually very little difference between American Idol and karaoke singers — you know, minus the words on the screen, 35 million votes and a shot at a $1 million singing contract with RCA. But don’t be fooled. The semi-finalists may not have that Hollywood look, vocal lessons or a fun new hair style, but they every bit as serious as, let’s say, Fantasia Barino from season two of American Idol.

As each contestant got up to sing, the judges eyed them carefully and turned their head occasionally as if to feign concentration. Contestants nervously approached the stage but once the intro started you could see the confidence shine through. And that’s the thing about karaoke — these people are there because they want to be. It’s not a drunken dare or girls’ night out. It’s a competition and everyone is there to win. 

After all was sung and done, six contestants moved on to the final round. Due to the success of this year’s Empire Idol, chances are the Empire Lounge will go for a second contest. And if you think you don’t sound like a drowning cat or a camel giving birth (trust me, get a friend’s opinion first) you could have what it takes to be the next Empire Idol.

Editor’s note: The Hippo is a media sponsor of the Empire Idol contest.


      Seth Hoy

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH