How To Become a Pro at Karaoke, From the Pros Themselves

Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales won the bronze medal at the Karaoke World Championships.
Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales won the bronze medal at the Karaoke World Championships.
Robert Olivas
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Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales were three hours from going on stage and performing their final song at the Karaoke World Championships in Helsinki. They were tied for fourth place with another duet, who had just finished an energetic performance in which they were all over the stage.

“I told Laura, ‘If we want to have a chance of medaling, we’re gonna have to go to every piece of the stage we can and try not to fall down the stairs,’” Arizpe says.

At the international level, the KWC is about more than just singing, Arizpe says. The duet left with the bronze medal. If it were not for a last-minute choreography change, Arizpe says they may not have gotten a medal at all.

Plenty of people in DFW and around the world have made a nice hobby out of karaoke, but getting serious about karaoke is about the whole package. It’s expected that you know how to sing. The rest is about presentation, song selection and audience response, Arizpe says.

Arizpe grew up in a musical family. Her father was a performing musician who gigged around Dallas. Consequently, she has been singing her whole life and eventually started attending classes at UNT to pursue music. She has competed in and judged Voice of Pride, a local singing competition.

“You can have the best voice in the contest, but the best voice doesn’t always win,” Arizpe says.

It all depends on the contest and judging criteria. In Voice of Pride, Arizpe says a quarter of a contestant’s points can come exclusively from their outfit. If you’re competing, you really have to step up your look, she says.

Now 37, Arizpe says she met Robert Olivas, a local karaoke host and singer, when she was 18. Olivas says karaoke is an art form. 

“[In] most of the big karaoke competitions, it’s not just about vocal ability, which is criteria number one,” Olivas says. “Number two is stage presence. How well did you deliver? Did you address the audience?”

Karaoke can be found in the smallest towns to the biggest cities, Olivas says. As the assistant Texas state director for the KWC, he was the one who invited Arizpe and Carrizales to the qualifying match, which set them on course to compete at the international level.

“If you really want to get serious about your karaoke game, you really gotta reach down inside yourself to figure out ‘what makes me tick,’” Olivas says. “You’ve gotta sing stuff that fills you up inside because it will come out in your song. If it moves you, it will move your audience.”

Since she was in college, Arizpe has been competing in karaoke. All you have to do is sign up for a song, get on stage and see how it goes, she says. However, it’s good to have some contest-winning songs in your back pocket that you can pull out at a moment's notice, she says.

One night in Dallas, Arizpe and a few friends were playing poker. She was not doing too well. Scrolling through her Facebook feed, she saw a friend was at a local karaoke contest. It was called “Sing Your Way to the Grammys” at the now-closed Big Al’s McKinney Avenue Tavern.

Most bars will host karaoke competitions to increase their draw. Because of this, local competitions may be a monthlong process with qualifiers and finals. At Big Al’s on this particular occasion, Arizpe could win tickets to the Grammys in just one night of performing. Sign-up was just about closed, and Arizpe was the last one to make it on the list.

“I signed up and they were like, ‘Because you’re the last person, you have to go first,’” Arizpe recalls.

Although she says she was not in competition mode, she got up on stage and performed “I’m Every Woman" by Whitney Houston, working the crowd the whole time. She ended up winning and took Carrivales, her girlfriend, to the Grammys.

The KWC international competition in Finland was a unique experience, Arizpe says. The rules state if a contestant is selected to represent a country in any given category, they can never do so again in that same category. If Arizpe and Carrizales wanted to compete again in the KWC, they would have to do it as soloists. However, there are plenty of local, national and international competitions for them and other aspiring karaoke performers to choose from. The duet is looking for their next one to take on.

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