Chicago Has Crowned Its First Ever Citywide Karaoke Champion

Jason E. Jackson beat out 540 others in the first ever citywide singing contest – Chicago Sings Karaoke – and took home the $5,000 prize presented by major Lori Lightfoot, who also belted out “Dancing in the street” while judges deliberated. 

The sold-out Park West theater cheered Sunday, November 6th, when Jason E. Jackson was crowned Chicago’s karaoke champion, in the first-ever citywide competition of its kind.

“I’m floored, and I am so honored,” said Jackson, dashing in a shiny gold bow tie with a black shirt with pinstriped vest and pants, while confetti was coming down upon the stage.

Jackson’s renditions of “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness and a wonderful performance of the opera aria “Nessun Dorma” that brought the audience to its feet earned him bragging rights and a $5,000 prize presented by Mayor Lori Lightfoot — who sang “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas as the judges deliberated. “It’s been a gift to be in the presence of these incredible artists and performers,” Lightfoot told the crowd, before assuring them the competition will be back next year.

How karaoke came to be and went on to conquer the world

The first karaoke machine was invented by Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue in Kobe, Japan in 1971.

In Japan, providing musical entertainment is a tradition at dinners and parties and often guests of Inoue would request recordings of his music to sing along to.  The president of a small company asked Inoue to record some of his keyboard music for him to sing along to for business clients. Inoue did so and it was a successful and enjoyable experience for them both.  Realizing the gap in the market for a product that let people interact with and participate in popular music, Inoue created a tape-recorder machine (the Juke 8) that played songs when money was inserted. Inoue did not however come up with the name “karaoke”. A Japanese entertaining group created the phrase after an orchestra went on strike and a machine was used instead to play the music. “Karaoke” translates to “empty orchestra”. 

Due to their love of singing, the Japanese have a very non-judgemental attitude towards listening to others sing and this is probably why karaoke has become such a hit there. The success has reached new places though as karaoke has spread to Korea, China, South-East Asia, the U.S. and Europe. Nowadays, people can enjoy karaoke in their own homes, with friends and family, but also on dedicated nights throughout various pubs and restaurants in most major cities in the world. 

Opera helped Jackson secure the big win

The newly crowned karaoke king of Chicago, Jackson, 45, who lives in Edgewater, said he chose an opera number wanting to be sure he will stand out amongst his peers in the competition. It was immediately clear his bet paid off, since the audiences and judges alike appreciated his renditions. One judge told Jackson that he “touched everyone here,” and another called the performance “truly mesmerizing.” 

After two pandemic years which have been tough on most, Jackson said his plan for the winnings is straightforward: “Bills, bills, bills.”

“I think the pandemic hit everybody really hard. I’ve gone through a tough time these past few years,” he said. “This money is going to mean a chance for me to rebuild”, the winner added.

Sunday’s showcase featured six finalists, who each sang two songs, and included everything from Sam Cooke to Celine Dion to Michael Jackson. The competition was the culmination of the month-long contest. In the first two rounds, judges evaluated 540 Chicagoans who sang at 18 venues in neighborhoods across the city.

The grand finale — which concluded with Jackson leading a group performance of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” — attracted hundreds of enthusiastic karaoke fans who sang and danced to every song. Near the stage, a panel of five judges evaluated the contestants and offered feedback on song selection, performance, vocal range and even how well they engaged the audience.

The other finalists, encouraged to keep on singing

For Erendira Izguerra, the path to Park West started at Mi Tierra in Little Village, where she said she was not sure about entering the competition, but her friends “basically forced” her to sign up.

When she won at that location, she went to the semifinals, wowing the judges at Simone’s bar in Pilsen by belting out “La Cigarra” by Linda Ronstadt and “Échame a mí la Culpa” by Amalia Mendoza.

Even though she was around Mariachi music since her teenage years, the 29-year-old said she doesn’t think of herself as a singer.

“Honestly the fact that I made it to the finals gives me hope to actually try singing more often,” she confessed.

Another finalist, Brandon Dodson — a 35-year-old Rogers Park resident who said he has been singing since he was a kid — also won his spot to the Park West thanks to his semifinals performance at Simone’s. That night, Dodson took the mic and asked if “anyone likes some old school R&B?” before diving into Brian McKnight’s 2001 ballad “Love of my Life.”

Jaleel Amir started his journey to the finals at Randy’s Lounge in Grand Crossing — with his mom there to cheer him on. Rashada Dawan and Lauren “Elle Michelle” Gaines both got to Park West by singing Aretha Franklin.

Chicagoans really love to find new ways to have fun and enjoy the performing arts

Chicagoans are always ready to find new ways of having fun and enjoy all the performing arts might have to offer. For instance, ‘The Twenty-Sided Tavern’ invites Chicagoans and visitors to embrace all the sword-and-sorcery tabletop roleplaying games have to offer in a new D&D inspired theater show.

And if loose interpretation of the classics is more your cup of tea, you could always check out Drunk Shakespeare. The idea behind this is, well, quite literal. You get an actor drunk and see how he or she will perform a classic play like Machbeth. The concept is also aided by “points of order” and “drunk points of order” where the inebriated actor can change the direction of the play and what all other actors must do to get the show to the finish line.

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