The L.A. Times and Radio Korea are hosting a karaoke contest. Here’s how you can compete

Jess Hutchison / Los Angeles Times

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Karaoke is supposed to be fun. It’s a release. You can turn off your brain after work. You can embrace the cheesiness of the radio hits of your youth. You can relax in a comfortable, low stakes environment where earnestness and ridiculousness merit equal respect.

But what if your upcoming karaoke hang is a competition — and you’re in it to win it?

This Sunday (July 16) from 2 to 4 p.m., the L.A. Times and Radio Korea will co-host a street karaoke competition in Koreatown Plaza. The concept of street karaoke was popularized in Korea, when BJ, broadcast jockey, Lee Changhyun started livestreaming his karaoke show on the streets of Hongdae, a neighborhood of Seoul known for its arts and youth culture. He’d recruit participants from random passersby, a crowd would gather behind to watch and online viewers could also comment in real time.

Radio Korea, the L.A.-based Korean-language station, has been hosting street karaoke events in Koreatown and Buena Park since 2019. In the past, the laid-back community gatherings attracted a multigenerational crowd.


If you go

What: Radio Korea and L.A. Times Street Karaoke and K-Dance Competition

When: Sunday, July 16, noon to 6 p.m.; karaoke competition from 2 to 4 p.m., dance competition from 4 to 6 p.m.

Where: Koreatown Plaza, 928 S Western Ave., Los Angeles

Cost: Free; parking is $10. (Carpooling, public transit or rideshare recommended.)

More: Eventbrite page and Radio Korea website

Sunday’s bilingual event, in Korean and English, is the first time that a Radio Korea street karaoke event will be a competition.

You can sign up on the Radio Korea website, but slots will be saved for those who come on-site, first-come, first-serve. Radio Korea’s director of content, Young Kim (a member of two K-pop bands in the late ’90s, S#arp and UpTown) will host, and staffers from the Los Angeles Times will warm up the crowd before the contest.

The prizes are no joke. The champion wins an Air Premia airline ticket, plus $700. Second place is a $500 cash prize, and third is $300. And all three winners get a one-year digital subscription to the Los Angeles Times. The audience will vote, but the final winners will be determined by a panel of judges — including L.A. Times Asian American communities reporter (and regular Radio Korea guest) Jeong Park.


So what should your strategy be for a karaoke competition like this? The Times asked Kim — and champions from the L.A. Karaoke League — for tips on approaching a fun contest with serious strategy.

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Know what type of competition you’re entering

Not all karaoke competitions are the same, said Adam Bradshaw, the deputy commissioner of United Karaoke — which oversees local karaoke leagues in D.C., Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles and, soon, San Francisco.

Some are very “American Idol”-style contests and purely about who can sing the best, he said.

But those who succeed at tournaments hosted by the L.A. Karaoke League — which was formed in 2014 and takes place in bars all over L.A., including the Good Nite in North Hollywood, the Venice Beach Bar & Kitchen in Venice, and the Silver Fox in Long Beach — tend to win over audiences through their creativity, he said.

“Some people in the league are insanely good at making cardboard props,” said Julie Goldberg, United Karaoke’s league manager. “And sometimes the more home-y it looks, the funnier it is.”


Kim thinks the quality of performances Sunday will be pretty high. Noraebang — singing in private karaoke rooms — is an integral part of Korean and L.A. Koreatown culture, he said. Even though participants may be more used to singing in the company of friends, as opposed to performing on a stage, the consistent practice results in most KTown karaoke singers being pretty good, he said.

“I expect them to bring it,” he said.


Consider the audience

“Karaoke is a spectator sport,” said Bradshaw. “It’s about figuring out what will hook the audience, get them excited ... and be like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that before.’”

Some people can coast on the quality of their voice. Others may want to add dance moves or humor to their performance.

Kim recommends addressing the audience directly or including them in your performance. “The more you interact with the audience, the more they will open up,” he said.

For the most part, Radio Korea street karaoke audiences have been very welcoming, Kim said. They’re rooting for you.


Pro tip: If you can sing any songs in Korean, Sunday’s event may be the time to show off.

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Take song choice seriously

Goldberg recommends choosing either a well-known song that’s less commonly performed in karaoke or taking a popular karaoke song but doing it with a twist.

In a previous L.A. Karaoke League competition, Goldberg performed the Police’s “Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic” while doing magic tricks. Another time, when the theme was breakup songs, one team performed Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” as Barbie dolls.

Bradshaw warned about getting too esoteric. “If it’s not a song the audience knows, it’s hard to get the audience behind you,” Bradshaw said. “Unless you absolutely have amazing vocals.”

Need help brainstorming? Try out our L.A. Times go-to karaoke song generator — where you can enter in your preferred time period, mood and vocal range to get suggestions.

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Nov. 14, 2022



Karaoke isn’t something you do ironically.

“I really enjoy when I can just commit to a really, really silly idea onstage,” said Kevin Chu.


He’s a competitor in the summer 2023 L.A. Karaoke League tournament, which started June 7 and ends Aug. 2. This year, he joined a mishmash of former L.A. Karaoke League champions, who formed a team called ...and a Pizza Place — a nod to the late-’90s Ryan Reynolds sitcom, “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.”

For the first night of their 10-week season, he and teammate Heather Hanford performed “Smooth.” He sang Rob Thomas’ lyrics, while she crooned Carlos Santana‘s guitar parts.

The stupid things you do with friends at home or in a private karaoke room also work in a competition, he said.

“If we’re having fun, the audience is going to have fun and laugh,” he said.

Steve Hogan and Hannah Glass of Pandora’s Music Genome Project share how their team categorized the music you recommended to help people find their go-to karaoke songs.

Nov. 11, 2022

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