Where karaoke kings and queens are born

Laura Lucas

Laura Lucas

Wednesday nights have been busy at Prairie Lanes Bowling Alley since the start of the most recent karaoke contest on Jan. 21.

Prairie Lanes has been running karaoke contests for the last eight years, and so far they have been successful.

“Our karaoke is well-known in town,” said Les Nelson, owner of Prairie Lanes. “We have the right chemistry right now.”

The contest takes place on Wednesday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight. It is part of a tournament that Prairie Lanes had to pay to enter; around 200 other bowling alleys in the U.S. are also in the tournament.

Competitions at Prairie Lanes will run weekly until May 13, with the last qualifying round taking place on May 6. Each week, three finalists will be selected from among the contestants. Finals will take place on May 13, and the winner of the finals receives a three-day, all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to compete in the national finals on June 21.

The winner of the finals in Las Vegas will receive $5,000, open for a major act and have the opportunity to record a song in a recording studio. The second place award is $2,000, and third place is awarded $1,000.

“I think it’s great for the bowling alley – a great opportunity for people to spend time together,” said Elisabeth Hunstad, one of Jan. 21’s three finalists. Hunstad, a senior music merchandising major, sang “Respect” by Aretha Franklin to qualify.

The contest is free and open to the public, and a bowling discount is available while it is taking place ($2 rather than $3.25). Contestants do not have to pay to participate in the contest but must be 18 or older.

“The price is right,” Nelson said.

Contestants are judged on their vocal delivery, showmanship and song delivery. The system used to judge contestants is called Olympic-style judging. There are six judges who each give a score from 1 to 10 for a performance. The top and bottom scores are thrown out. The remaining scores are added together to obtain the contestant’s total. Nelson said that they had never had a contestant say that the scoring was unfair.

Contestants must sing two good songs to make the cut.

“It’s amazing that people can sing this well,” Nelson said.

SDSU journalism alum Vicki Schuster, another finalist from Jan. 21, said that the crowd also played a role in who was chosen. Schuster’s song was “The Warrior” by Scandal.

“Song selection is very critical when you’re singing in a competition,” Schuster said.

Qualifiers do not have to return to the contest each week once they are chosen, but are encouraged to come back to practice singing their songs and get used to being around a crowd.

“I’m just happy that I qualified,” Schuster said.

The judges for the contest are usually local people with backgrounds in music or karaoke. The karaoke itself is run by Jeff Hanson of White, S.D.

“It’s a newer experience for me, but a lot of fun. It’s a neat idea,” Hunstad said.