It came down to two contestants from Boston in the deciding round of the karaoke finals at Season’s in Oak Bluffs on September 1. Nick Wilson and Erin Schrutt sang their hearts out in the final sing-off, while a panel of four judges agonized over who would go back to Beantown with top honors.
In the end, the affable and enthusiastic Mr. Wilson, a chef at Boston’s House of Blues, walked away with the grand prize for his last rousing performance of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”
Karaoke has been a staple of the Season’s lineup for a few years now, and this is the fifth year that an end of season contest has pitted the best of the summer’s singers against each other. Five of last Thursday’s six finalists (there were three no-shows) represented the winners of So You Think You Can Sing?, the Thursday night weekly contests held throughout the summer. Last year’s karaoke grand prize winner, Cassidy Look of Oak Bluffs, was invited back to face this year’s challengers.
Three of the contestants — Ms. Look; Angel Quiñ;onez, owner of Amity Custom Ink; and Dorian Lope of Vineyard Haven — are locals and regulars at karaoke, while the first and second place winners and Jarryd Blanchard of Fairhaven, are Vineyard visitors who had stopped in for karaoke night on a previous Thursday and defeated the local competition. Ms. Schrutt, who manages a boutique called Mint Julep in Brookline, was the winner the Thursday before the big contest, when she had her Vineyard vacation cut short by Hurricane Irene. She says of that previous contest, “I had no strategy. I didn’t know I was entering a contest.” The three off-Islanders made return trips to the Vineyard specifically to compete in the finals.
John Tiernan (AKA Johnny Showtime) emcees all three weekly karaoke nights and picks the Thursday winners. A panel of four judges helped decide the contest — Jack Dario of M.V. Sightseeing, comedian Marty Nadler, Mr. Tiernan’s Saturday co-host Dan Cassidy, and the 2009 contest winner, Garrett Box. Contestants could collect up to five points in each of five categories — song choice, vocals, performance, audience participation, and overall. Mr. Tiernan stresses the importance of audience participation, “The biggest thing about karaoke is getting everybody excited. If everybody loves you I’m going to love you.”
Mr. Box, who won an earlier contest by hamming it up, complete with costume, for a Backstreet Boys song, says, “The thing I like about karaoke is if you go to see a band and you don’t like it, you’re going to leave. It’s like a mix change. It’s more exciting. It’s more fun. It’s really hard to be a tough guy at karaoke.”
Last Thurday’s mix ran from top 40 and country to easy listening and classic Motown. And the contestants each had a signature style, to go along with their genre choices.
The surprise element is one of the more fun aspects of karaoke. Looks can be deceiving and you can’t make any assumptions about either the level of ability or the choice of material based on first impressions. Thursday’s first contestant, Mr. Schrutt has a distinctive urban hip look, yet when he launched into “I’ve Got the World on a String,” he was Sinatra incarnate.
Similarly, second contestant Mr. Blanchard channelled Marvin Gaye in “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” though his look — a polo and plaid shorts — was pure collegiate preppy. The engaging Mr. Wilson bounced up on stage, all smiles for his first number, and delivered a flawless version of the C.Lo Green hit “Forget You” — doing the not-appropriate-for-radio version of the song, which is famous for its shouted expletive refrain.
The biggest surprise may have been when the sweet-faced Ms. Schrutt — dressed simply in jeans and a loose-fitting tank top with her silky hair neatly pulled back from her face — got up on stage and delivered country singer Gretchen Wilson’s “I’m Here for the Party” like a hard-living, fun-loving barfly. “So bring on them cowboys and their pickup lines,” she growled, along with gyrations and other seductive moves, before returning to her perky self, laughing with her girlfriends on the sidelines.
Dorian Lope chose classic rock hits for two rounds before he was eliminated. His voice was perfectly suited to “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which got the crowd up and dancing for the first time, and Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”
Ms. Look demonstrated the talent that has earned her grand prize honors for two previous years. She chose three very difficult, vocal show-off songs: the gritty “Paris” by Grace Potter, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” (the most popular karaoke choice for women, according to Mr. Tiernan), and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” She nailed each one, even managing the a capella opener and soaring high notes of the Whitney Houston classic. Ms. Look, who notes that she is (deservedly) looking to form a band, made it to the final three before losing out to the two Bostonians in the semi-final round.
The three semi-finalists supported one another — sharing high fives and hugs, and they only got serious about the contest when they hit the stage. They were all very enthusiastic, had great stage presence, and managed to completely win the crowd over. Before the final round, the four judges agreed that they had a really tough time making their final choices.
In the end, Ms. Schrutt won a cash prize for placing second, and Mr. Wilson walked off with a trip to Las Vegas. The grand prize winner spent last summer on the Vineyard, heading up the kitchen at Blue Canoe. He was a Season’s karaoke regular last year and came back to the Vineyard — and Seasons — frequently this past summer. He and his girlfriend, Jordan Wood, also of Boston, sat with Ms. Look and her friends throughout the evening, and the energetic Mr. Wilson bounced around chatting with friends during the breaks in the contest. After he won, Mr. Wilson gave a beaming Ms. Wood a big hug and said, “I’m just excited. I’m going to Vegas.”