For the next three weeks, H Street NE will be the epicenter of the D.C. karaoke scene. It's time for the sixth annual H Street Karaoke Cup, a three week tournament that climaxes with a night of performances onstage at the Rock & Roll Hotel.
Anyone with dreams of being H Street's Karaoke King or Queen has to qualify for the finals by wowing judges at one of five preliminary rounds. Two are at Little Miss Whiskey's, during the regularly scheduled Kostume Karaoke nights on Feb. 5 and 19, while the other three take place during Sticky Rice's Thursday karaoke night, on Feb. 6, 13 and 20.
Judges at each event will evaluate each performer, and invite a select few to return for the Feb. 27 finals at the Rock & Roll Hotel. But singing a pitch-perfect rendition of your favorite Whitney Houston tune might not be enough to punch your ticket to the championship. "This is not merely a talent competition for pure singers," explains Little Miss Whiskey's owner Mark Thorp. "This is a search for performers."
That makes sense for Sticky Rice and Little Miss Whiskey's, where karaoke night is far more than just singing in a bar. Sticky Rice's energetic karaoke might involve performers dancing on tables or the stairs, while Kostume Karaoke's regulars dress up in wigs and funny hats and employ inflatable guitars and other props in their routines.
You might expect competitiveness to ratchet up the tension at what are usually loose, fun events, but both bars stress that their karaoke nights will be run as close to "normal" as they get, rather than as "American Idol"-style auditions. "We ask those who want to enter to include an e-mail on their song sign up [slips]," says Debbie Arseneaux, who runs Kostume Karaoke and will help decide who makes the finals. "That way, we can run the night as a regular karaoke night, and include people who have no interest in the competition, but we have a way to follow up with anyone who is interested and available." No qualifying contestants will be announced at the bars, Arseneaux says; winners who supply an e-mail will be notified by organizers within a few days.
There's no cover charge to enter at either bar, and karaoke hopefuls are welcome to enter as many times and in as many configurations as they like. If your solo version of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" doesn't impress at Sticky Rice, bring your friends to try the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere" at the next Kostume Karaoke.
Good luck, and break a leg.