It has been a big few years for singing in Federal Way. Last year, Federal Way’s own Iam Tongi won “American Idol.” This year, a global enterprise for singing called Karaoke Idols is launching from the city.
Karaoke competitions are held at local bars, restaurants and event venues that decide to host as part of the program. The top singer from each venue then goes on to compete at a state competition. The whole thing culminates in a competition between representatives from multiple countries in a global showdown. The top prize is $10,000.
Singers who want to compete can sign up now, and the first competition starts on March 1. Individual venues sign up to host the competitions for a fee, then enjoy the benefits of a crowd of passionate karaoke singers as well as the friends and family they bring along for their cheering section.
Garvaundo Hamilton is co-founder and CEO of Karaoke Idols and has been involved in the karaoke competition world for years. He was the 2020 Karaoke World Champion, and last year was on the board of the International Karaoke Federation. He helped launch the IKF global karaoke competition debut in 2023, titled the Karaoke Cup.
The 2023 Karaoke Cup World Finals wrapped on Nov. 10 at the Ahern Hotel in Las Vegas. Robert Owens was the grand prize winner, and over 60 people from around the world competed for that honor, according to the IKF website.
This year, Hamilton split from IKF to form Karaoke Idols, headquartered in Federal Way. His business follows a similar format, with some changes designed to create a solid foundation for growth and reduce barriers for staff and participants.
Hamilton doubled the grand prize from $5,000 to $10,000. A new duet category also opens up the floor to singing doubles who like to complement each other on the karaoke stage.
Karaoke Idols also includes a community engagement piece called the One Love Initiative, which focuses on making sure that no one is left behind.
“I was born and raised in Jamaica and reggae has had an important role in my life,” Hamilton said of the initiative’s title. It is “in a sense, a quote or a tribute” to “One Love” by Bob Marley. The motto is shared by the initiative and Jamaica itself: out of many, one.
The ethos of this initiative is also represented by his love for the community of Federal Way. Hamilton became a member of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce three years ago through his role at MinuteMan press. He is now based out of Seattle, but said he wanted to headquarter the Karaoke Idols in Federal Way.
While one reason is that Federal Way is strategically placed halfway between Tacoma and Seattle, the core reason is because Hamilton said “our diversity is very present and very evident, and there’s some level of support for that,” and because he is passionate about investing in the future of Federal Way.
“People are leaving because opportunities are elsewhere. They’re getting better pay elsewhere. And I’m trying to keep it here because I have a vision for the city when it comes to arts and culture and community engagement and community development,” Hamilton said.
Federal Way support
Rebecca Martin, CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, said Karaoke Idols aligns with the chamber’s current focus on innovation.
“When we look at economic development, for our area of the South Puget Sound down here, strategically the chamber is recognizing that innovation economies are the way to go,” Martin said.
The chamber is conducting a study on this very topic, asking the question: What does an innovation economy and the creative arts look like with Federal Way as a hub?
When it comes to the economic potential of a karaoke competition business in Federal Way, Martin spoke to the possibilities around supply chains and target markets.
“Maybe they’re not shipping freight out, but maybe they’re shipping talent in,” Martin said. Considering that most event venues are bars or restaurants, she highlighted “the hospitality industry and the range of jobs that go with that,” and the possibilities around karaoke itself, like a “sound engineer, you have costumes, you have lighting, you have design, you have vocal coaches.”
Individual bars and event venues sign up to host by making a $250 deposit for one night or $500 for multiple nights and registering online — an investment that typically pays itself back easily, according to Hamilton.
For those who are unsure about making the leap, Hamilton said Karaoke Idols is happy to help venues with tracking down everything from sound equipment to a karaoke DJ, or KJ as they are called in the industry.
Martin also had the opportunity to enjoy the Washington state competition as a judge. She said this experience highlights one of the reasons she loves her job. “You’re doing this back-of-house work, but to have the business remember you and still keep including you as part of their growth is really rewarding,” she said.
Hamilton said he wants “us as the City of Federal Way to be proud of this,” and hopes for more support from leadership outside of the Chamber of Commerce and for venues in Federal Way to join other locations in the state to sign up and host competitions.
The Karaoke Idols competition is already global, with 11 countries confirmed so far. Hamilton’s vision is even bigger than that, and he told the Mirror: “I want it to go to every state in America. I want to be in every province in Canada, and then I want every continent to be represented in as many countries as possible and eventually be on TV as a hit.”
While the culture and community of karaoke is more relaxed, Hamilton said, “I want the world to know that even though it’s a karaoke competition, it is actually a singing competition full of talented individuals.”