Here are my karaoke bona fides: I have reluctantly participated in this pastime on exactly three occasions. At my friend Jennifer’s bachelorette party (yes, heterosexual men were invited to the bachelorette party for some reason), I sang “Okie From Muskogee.” At a party following the Red Sox World Series victory in 2007, I drunkenly warbled “Sweet Caroline.” (So good! So good! So good!) And on New Year’s Eve a couple years back, I absolutely killed “Werewolves of London.” So who more qualified than I to dissect ABC’s latest singing competition series, Karaoke Battle USA? After all, it’s always fun to eviscerate a crappy reality show, and…holy jumping Jesus, this thing is two hours long? Oh, man. I am going to be so drunk by the end of this. But isn’t that appropriate, given that karaoke has become one of America’s most popular alcohol-fueled activities?
Which brings me to my first problem with this show, which is that it’s apparently aimed at an audience that believes staying home on a Friday night and watching other people perform karaoke is an acceptable level of entertainment. Now, I don’t want to cast any aspersions here, but I have to believe that such a demographic is perhaps not the most demanding possible audience for a television show. (I’m excluding you and me, of course! We’re here to make hilariously patronizing comments about those depressing people who are watching this shit unironically!) The other big flaw with Karaoke Battle USA right off the bat is that the contestants are not drinking! I mean, this goes against every principle of karaoke as I understand it. But as we’re about to find out, these people are serious about their singing.
“For one song, everyone can be a rock star.” “This is me telling the world, ‘Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a karaoke freak’.” With these two quotes over the opening credits, we know what we’re dealing with here. This is a battle to represent the United States on the world stage, as we are informed by host Joey Fatone, still sporting the boy-band beard, which covers most of his chins. (These days Fatone looks like he should be hosting underground poker games, not singing competitions.) Like all of these shows, Karaoke Battle features a celebrity panel of judges, assuming your definition of “celebrity” can be stretched to encompass Brian “The Cowboy” Scott, who is apparently the karaoke king of America. Scott is joined by Wilson Phillips singer Carnie Wilson, enjoying a career resurgence following Bridesmaids, and back to what we’ll politely call her “fighting weight” even after undergoing gastric bypass surgery, and the smarmy Joe Levy, a Rolling Stone editor from the magazine’s post-relevance era.
Our first contestant is Corey, a young Bieber-ite with a gleaming smile and show biz in his veins. His selection tonight is Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” I’m already more embarrassed than I’ve ever been in my life. Carnie Wilson quickly makes it clear that it’s a good thing for her Joey Fatone isn’t hosting an underground poker game, because she has no poker face at all. Ten seconds into the performance, she puts her hand over her mouth like her mind has done been blown. She shakes her fists with near-religious fervor. Her eyes nearly bug out of her skull. Slow down, Carnie! You’re peaking too soon!
Carnie obviously can’t hear me, because she’s equally enraptured with Shawntae’s note-perfect rendition of Whitney Houston’s “All the Man I Need.” Her fists are shaking again. She stands! The crowd stands with her! It’s starting to look like no one can do any wrong, but wait! The terrible singers are next. This is the part we’ve all been waiting for, but inexplicably, the producers of Karaoke Battle don’t realize this, and the awful people are all compressed into a fleeting montage. What fun is that? I wanted much more of the Lady Gaga chick in the robot panties! She seemed like a good time.
Instead, it’s back to the singers doing their best note-for-note recreations of over-familiar tunes—with the notable exception of Vil Tower, a gangly John Waters lookalike who delivers an absolutely apeshit rendition of “Ballroom Blitz.” Now, I’m no expert, but to me this was the one performance that truly epitomized the essence of karaoke: Some big ol’ goofball going nuts onstage, not trying to land an agent or a record contract, but simply letting the music take him over for three minutes at the end of a shitty day. That’s what should separate this show from the other singing competitions, but although the judges enjoy the performance, they worry that he won’t be able to deliver the more serious goods when the time comes. To which I say: Who cares? If you’re going to be a karaoke show, own it!
But instead we get the predictable finalists. For the guys, it’s Corey the Muppet and Sammy, a music teacher who channels Stevie Wonder like nobody’s business. For the ladies, it’s Shawntae, who I keep having to remind myself is not Shirley from Community, and Meredith, who actually is way too good for this show. After one more showdown, Sammy and Meredith emerge victorious, and they’ll be heading to L.A. for the semis. I wish them well, but not well enough to actually watch this show ever again.
- Did anyone notice the shot of the teleprompter with the lyrics from Adele’s “Hometown Glory,” prominently displaying the line “Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit”? Some cheeky editor slipped one past you, ABC!
- Carnie Wilson: “You’ve got a little black woman inside you. I love it.”