Karaoke. Just the word might conjure up cringes and a flashback to a long-ago public performance at a bar that shall remain nameless. Or, like Joe Brinkman, you could choose to embrace those electronically enhanced moments of musical magic, which in his case includes being a judge for the World Karaoke Championship.
At an open-mic night in a Cincinnati bar in 2004, his true karaoke epiphany occurred for the noblest reason of all—to impress a woman. “I got crazy. I was running around the bar and sliding on the floor,” he says. And the song? “Back then I was doing ‘La Vida Loca.’” The hot one by Ricky Martin, remember?
One would imagine that this Musketeer, boasting a 2002 degree in physics and an MBA in 2004, might find karaoke a bit too lowbrow. Not a chance. Brinkman not only had the music in him, he also had the talent. “I play multiple instruments—drums, piano, guitar,” he says. He even entertained the thought of majoring in music. “But that would take all the fun out of it. Karaoke is perhaps the funnest expression of music talent.”
Another open-mic performance caught the attention of the local representative of Karaoke World Championships, the largest and most prestigious karaoke competition in the world. Cincinnati hosted the first U.S. championship in 2007 at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. “We were next to a bear,” says Brinkman, who was one of the judges. “It started out as just Cincinnati and a few local areas. But it grew. We had people coming from both coasts and Alaska.”
Karaoke fever spiked in 2011 with Karaoke Battle USA, broadcast on ABC. Brinkman was not a judge at that event, but while these days, living “La Vida Loca” has taken a back seat to kids and careers, that doesn’t mean his inner Ricky Martin has completely left the building. And for those of you who might one night find a mic in your hand, he has some advice:
“Go with a song that people know and love,” he says. “The best performances are when the singers didn’t even have to work that hard. The audience just stood up with them and sang along. If you can get the audience into it, you’re set.”