Ohio karaoke directors will help local singers make their mark in Las Vegas

The way Sissi and Michael Thompson met in 2015 was like a scene from a movie. She was a Florida event planner, wedding singer and self-proclaimed “national anthem queen.” He was an Ohio-based professional ballroom dancer and instructor. They were both karaoke champions of their respective states and attended the national qualifier for the Karaoke World Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“I heard somebody singing and I was like, ‘Who is that?'” Sissi said in an early-April interview with Michael at Red Door Tavern. “That's where it all started.”

Michael was singing “Believe” by Brooks & Dunn, and then he heard Sissi sing Tina Turner's version of “Proud Mary.”

“What was it that you said I was?” Sissi asked Michael during our interview.

“Trouble,” Michael replied.

“Honey, he had no idea,” Sissi said.

The couple married the following year at the national competition at Vince Neil's Tatuado Eat-Drink-Party restaurant in Las Vegas. This year, they return to the Karaoke World Championships as Ohio state directors.

Currently, local singers are competing in venues throughout the state in weekly qualifiers. Each venue will hold its own semifinal — Red Door Tavern's event is Saturday, April 14 — and the top male and top female will progress to the state finals at Tequila Cowboy Bar & Grill on Polaris Parkway in July. State champions will compete in Las Vegas in August, and national champions will compete in Spain in October. Both venue and singer participation is open until state finals.

“There are some amazing competitors,” Sissi said. “It's anybody's game. It can be the theater student … or it could be your local plumber.”

Singers are judged on voice, technique, artistry and stage presence.

“If you're gonna get up there and sing a Whitney Houston song … you better be able to back it up,” Sissi said. “Because the minute you can't compare to them, you're done for. So that's why you've got to make it your own.”

KWC competitors have gone on to star on Broadway or appear on television. And although Sissi and Michael haven't reached celebrity status, they've found fulfillment in other ways.

“Neither of us will probably ever win a Grammy,” Sissi said. “We'd love to, but we're great singers. We know that. … We have met some amazing people. There's very few cities around the world that we could fly into that we wouldn't have friends there.”

“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, [karaoke]'s corny,'” Sissi continued. “Sometimes it is. But you know what? Everybody deserves their few minutes of fame.”