Singers ready to turn it on
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer
Similar whispers regarding a just-announced lineup for this weekend's inaugural McKinley High School Alumni Association Karaoke Challenge float past my seat in the school's auditorium.
It's the Karaoke Challenge's first and only rehearsal and orientation, and a full two weeks before these Tiger alumni go toe-to-toe on the m-i-c. But it's also pau hana Friday. And a few of the contestants (many with spouses and family members in tow) seem as salty as the mochi crunch and iso peanuts they pass around to munch.
"Don't worry, the crowd that night is going to be a friendly crowd," announces an organizer, dwarfed by a huge film screen flashing an occasional subliminal promise of "I've Never Been To Me." "No matter what you do, they're going to like it."
Another wave of mumbles makes its way through the crowd.
Rules, judging criteria and other helpful bits of information are announced. Song selections must not exceed five minutes, so thankfully, everyone will be safe from the likes of "American Pie," though sadly not "I've Never Been To Me." A television monitor will be placed in front of participants so they can refresh their lyrical memory at any time. Participants will be judged on poise, showmanship, audience appeal and overall impact.
Still dressed in their work clothes, three women from the Class of 1979 are allowed to rehearse first so they can leave early. They cling together a bit nervously in the shadow of the massive TV projection screen, while the audience gazes at it, anticipating the group's selection.
It turns out to be "Colors of the Wind" from "Pocahontas." Any hope of hearing the Depeche Mode, Cure and Springsteen selections my friends and I regularly massacre at Walter's Sound and Karaoke fade quickly.
The women stare intently at the monitor while ably trading individual verses and joining together on choruses. Tranquil scenes of hopelessly happy people traipsing through some combination zoo and amusement park (look ... there's a koala! ... there's Foghorn Leghorn!) unspool on the screen behind them.
A vision in his woven Panama, black slacks and a shirt bedecked with mirror pieces reflecting the setting afternoon sun, Shiro Matsuo (Class of 1937 and of Shiro's Saimin Haven fame) literally leaps onto the stage next. No cheesy backing track for Matsuo; he's chosen to accompany his own bad self on 'ukulele for "Manuela Boy."
Starting off on familiar enough lyrical ground, Matsuo soon moves into a flurry of improvised lyrics, yodels and 'ukulele acrobatics. He ends the song with a wave of his hand, drops the 'ukulele to his side and makes a beeline for the auditorium's front entrance like Pete Townshend heading for a waiting limo. The audience applauds wildly.
As Carrie Clark (Class of 1973) tears into Gloria Gaynor's ain't-gonna-take-this-crap-from-you-no-more anthem "I Will Survive," I ask Renate Kawakami (Class of 1966) outside to talk.
"For the contest, I'm going to sing 'Get Here' by Oleta Adams," says Kawakami. "It has a lot of feeling for me ... a lot of memories."
"I had a huge crush on a boy in high school here," says Kawakami. "But I grew up with a very strict aunt, and so I couldn't have boyfriends or anything. The song isn't from that time, but it reminds me of the crush."
It's a hopeful song, I suggest.
"Yeah, it is," agrees Kawakami. "Because it says, 'You can reach me by railway. ... ' "
You can reach me by Trailways, I finish, entirely off-key.
"Yeah ... like that," coos Kawakami. "I love that song."
Frank Mishima (Class of 1951) shows off a masterful voice and even more impressive stage presence with Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine." Emoting assuredly and wielding the microphone like the Chairman of the Board himself, Mishima sings to roars of approval. Afterward, I feel as if I should be escorting him off stage to the likes of Ava Gardner rather than a cold concrete bench outside the auditorium.
"I like Frank Sinatra ... Sinatra songs with faster beats," Mishima says. "That Engelbert Humperdinck has some beautiful songs, too."
"Oh, yeah ... 'After The Lovin',' 'Quando Quando Quando,' 'Release Me,' ... I've got 'em all in here," says Mishima, patting a fanny pack loaded with cassette tapes. "I've got 'Besame Mucho' and '(Theme from) New York, New York.' "
A veteran of local karaoke competitions who practices weekly for audiences at senior care homes and community centers, Mishima thinks he knows what it takes to move the judges, as well as the masses.
"I like the hard songs," Mishima says. "I think the (judges) recognize more if you sing the difficult ones."
I tell Mishima he seemed pretty fearless on stage.
"No ... no, that's just because I'm used to being there already," says Mishima, laughing. "It just comes naturally ... my own style. The judges look for stage presence, you know."