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Heating up and drawing crowds: Hawaiian Idol returns for 14th year

April 21, 2017 - 2:05am

Hawaiian Idol, a showcase of the Big Island’s finest karaoke stars, is heating up and drawing crowds.

Now in its 14th year, the free month-long competition heads into the last of three semifinals this Saturday evening at KBXtreme in Kailua-Kona.

“It’s a good show. If you like watching “The Voice” or “American Idol,” you’ll enjoy it,” said Summer Carrick, marketing director for KBXtreme, which sponsors the annual competition along with Kona Brewing Co. and KWXXFM.

Each week, the competition draws hundreds to the bowling alley above Lanihau Center to see who’s got the skills and voice to make it big time. The crowd also takes part in the fun via live voting that’s used as a tie-breaker and in selecting a Fan Favorite by liking or “hearting” snippets posted on social media.

“On April 8, there was no seats,” said Carrick. “People were standing all in the hallway, all the way down Chubby’s.”

And that crowd was there April 15 when contestant Kahi Kaaua took the stage to perform “Drops of Jupiter” by Train. Though a karaoke lounge regular, he’d never performed before a crowd of hundreds.

“This is where it’s going to be my proving ground,” said Kaaua before his performance. “This is where it’s going to show me if I have what it takes.”

His strategy was to just get up there and enjoy the moment.

“You get your butterflies and that’s normal but once you get in your rhythm, just zone everything out, block everything out, be one with the song, listen to your voice and adjust as you go and try and touch the crowd and be genuine,” he said.

That same crowd is expected again at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday when the last of the cream of the crop will be selected to compete in the finals on April 29.

That evening, the 12-15 starry-eyed semifinalists will meet to belt out their best to represent the Big Island on the big stage in the Talent Quest National Karaoke Contest at the Tropicana Resort and Casino in Laughlin, Nevada. The all-expenses-paid trip includes airfare, seven days lodging, ground transportation, talent fees and $500 cash.

Gerald “Brudda G” Farm is one of those winners sent to the mainland for the competition in 2005. He ended up placing second, which he said helped bolster his music career, giving him “more clout in the business.”

“It’s something that if that’s your passion and you definitely want to something in the music field, I think it’s a great venue to do,” said Farm, who now helps organize of Hawaiian Idol.

Another former winner, Kalani Pe’a, recently took home the Best Regional Roots Music Album for his debut CD, “E Walea,” at the 59th annual Grammy Awards. It was the first time since the category was introduced in 2012 that a Hawaiian recording won.

Pe’a, who’s always loved singing, said that winning Hawaiian Idol in 2010 was a milestone and start for him. Since then, he’s come back to judge the event, but will be unable to this year because of previous engagements. Instead, he’s sent a bunch of signed CDs that will be given away amid trivia contests on the final night.

“From a karaoke competition to the Grammys, this is just the start of my journey,” Pe’a said via text message. “I represent my Lahui, my Hawaiian language and culture and who I am as a millennial Hawaiian/Contemporary and Soul artist. I am ready for my worldwide tours in 2017-2019.”

The idea for the competition, said Carrick, came about from an idea developed between KBXtreme owner Bill Wong and Kona Brewing Co. CEO Mattson Davis in the early 2000s.

“(Bill) built this place because he just loves bowling and karaoke. This (Hawaiian Idol) was his fun contest that, rumor has it, he came up with the Kona Brewing Co. CEO and they were like ‘let’s do like an American Idol,’” said Carrick, noting that Wong last year stopped judging the contest himself.

For the first 12 years, the event showcased the best adult karaoke stars from KBXtreme’s XFactor Karaoke Lounge sending the winner to the national competition in Nevada. As has been the case from the get-go, there is no entry fee, but an audition is needed to get in on the action.

In its 13th year, the sponsors began working with community partners to build a program to showcase younger island talent in the first-ever Jr. Hawaiian Idol.

“It was a tremendous success and we watched 15-year-old Leimakamae Freitas and 11-year-old Michael Hanato grow as performers and delight the Big Island with their songs at several community events,” said Carrick.

In addition to getting younger singers in the mix, the organizers are also looking to expand both competitions islandwide in the future.

“We want the best on the island to go to Nevada,” said Farm.

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