‘Avoid boring life – Sing karaoke!’ reads the slogan by Singa – the streaming service for karaoke singers that is behind the Karaoke World Championships. Headliner speaks to Blackpool-born UK finalist, Jenny Ball ahead of the competition final in Japan, who reveals her song choice and explains how the competition is helping change the perception of karaoke.
Karaoke in Asia is no joke. In England, however, it is a bit of a joke – usually only suggested by that one friend that thinks they're Celine Dion after consuming vast quantities of alcohol on a Saturday night.
“It's a bit frustrating, because in the UK you've got some bloke that will say to his mate, ‘come on, let’s go and do a bit of karaoke’ after a few drinks,” Jenny Ball, the UK finalist for this year’s Karaoke World Championships tells Headliner on the phone ahead of packing for her trip to Japan. “For us, it’s just a bit of fun to let your hair down; it's not taken seriously at all, but overseas and in Japan especially, it is absolutely huge, and they take it very seriously.
“There are some class acts on, and the singers that are performing are of a certain standard. In the UK we tend to take the mick and have fun with karaoke. But now that I’m going to Japan, it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness – this is really serious!’”
The Blackpool-born 27 year old is preparing to travel to Tokyo to represent the UK – whittled down from 50 finalists in the biggest amateur singing competition in the world.
“Apparently within a mile radius of that venue there are over 80 karaoke bars – I might have no voice left,” she jokes. First introduced to karaoke as a child when she was gifted a karaoke machine by her parents, Ball went on to sing in a few pubs when she was 15 – “I wasn't allowed to drink, obviously” – and is now doing regular gigs and weddings.
“I love singing Anastasia, S Club 7 and Avril Lavigne,” Ball says. (This author may or may not have worn a tie as a belt in her teenage years). In terms of go-to songs when gigging, she admits she often sings crowd-pleasers: “I usually sing what they want to hear, but if I’m doing karaoke for fun, I’ll just sing something that I don't know the words to because they're going to be there in front of me!”
Ironically, Ball made it quite far into the competition in a previous year, missing out on going to the final in Finland by one point when points were deducted for forgetting her lyrics.
“That was my fault. I mean, if you're doing it, you need to know your lyrics! I do know my lyrics, but in that moment in time I lost my words – it can easily happen to the most professional singers.”
Describing visiting Japan as a “massive bucket list tick,” Ball is excited for what’s ahead: “I just found out that all of the countries do two songs, and your two songs have to be strong enough and score you enough points to get into the top 10. If I don't score highly enough in the two songs, I won’t be able to perform my last two songs. So my aim is to do really well in the first two, get into the top 10, smash those, and win! Just like that – really easy, no stress, no pressure,” she laughs.
Ball reveals that one of her songs for the final will be The Show Must Go On by Queen. “It's a big number and it's in a higher key. So it's really powerful – it’s going to be more of a performance song. And the costume! I’ve got to pack four costumes into one suitcase, plus makeup, accessories and shoes; it's going to be tight! I don’t know how well sequins, feathers and capes roll, but we will see!”
Although Ball admits representing the UK in Japan feels surreal, she is taking it very seriously: “I can't believe I'm going to represent the UK. But I'm not going to just be nice – I'm going there to win.”
Follow the competition here.
Words by Alice Gustafson.