For local singer Jake Akin, karaoke transports him to a place where all troubles of the world simply slide away as he sings.
But the young man now has a shot at representing the U.S. during the Karaoke World Championships in Tokyo this November. He essentially lucked into a local competition, won at the state level and now prepares for the national finals to be held in Las Vegas starting Aug. 18.
Akin is part of KWC Team Arkansas, a dozen singers who perform as soloists or in a duet. While in Vegas, they'll sing every day at what Akin describes as the largest and most prestigious karaoke competition in the world.
"It's almost like the Grammys of karaoke, really," says Akin. Singers compete from all 50 states, he explained about this next stage. Top winners go to the KWC World Finals in Japan.Here in Texarkana, you will find Jake sharing favorite songs on stage at Fat Jack's Oyster and Sports Bar or The Arrow Bar, two taverns where hardcore karaoke enthusiasts consume and congregate. He may sing a number like "Lost in the Fifties Tonight," the Ronnie Milsap hit that helped Akin make it to nationals.
Akin admits that he sort of lucked into the competition, having no clue it existed until a friend urged him, months ago, to head to Jack's one Wednesday night. He went up and sang but noticed a guy with a computer keeping a sharp eye on his performance.
After Jake sang, that man told him all about the competition. All he had to do was sign up, pay $15 and he'd be in, he was told. Akin wasn't even prepared to compete, but went for it and made it through the semifinals. "Sure enough, I advanced to the next round," he said.
Akin then crooned his way through the local finals, one of a dozen who headed to Little Rock as the Fat Jack's team.
"Lots of great and talented musicians. I'm very very very blessed to say that I am able to have this opportunity and to represent them, as well," Akin said. Now that he won at the state level, he'll keep representing Texarkana and that Jack's crew, just this next time it's in Vegas and, just maybe, overseas.
In Little Rock, 89 contestants faced each other over two days on the karaoke battlefield. Arkansas has fared well taking winners to nationals, placing in the Top 5 annually since 2013, according to KWC background info from Akin. An Arkansas singer won the World gold medal in 2014.
Akin's experience was wholly positive at state, earning glowing reviews from judges. Said Akin of what one told him, "He told me that the transitions from my lower notes into my higher notes were just so effortless and that I'd found a sweet spot for my voice and that I knew my instrument and knew how to control it."
Jake also moves comfortably on stage. He feels good up there.
"It's my happy place, music is my happy place," Akin said. In addition to the Milsap hit, he sang numbers by The Band of Heathens and Chris Stapleton at state. "Now I have to pick four for Las Vegas and I'm kind of freaking out," he says.
What does he consider when choosing a song?
"For me, I have to be able to feel the song. I have to have a connection with it because music is about expressing your inner feelings, your emotions and yourself in particular. You have to be able to connect with a song and change it and make it your own," Akin said. Put all of yourself into a song to make it work, he advises.
"You'll know which song is the one," Akin said. The butterfly feeling comes up. "That was kind of cool. I need to do that again," he said about how it feels, that recognition.
A talented singer since he was a youngster in church and Hooks High School (where he performed the Dwight Yoakam song "Fast as You"), Akin's been doing karaoke for four years. The Arrow and Jack's are his spots because of the atmosphere and people, plus D&M Karaoke, who've encouraged and supported Jake's singing pursuits and therefore own a special place in his heart.
"They have helped push me. They're all the time asking me to do different songs," he said.
He's long loved to sing, forever an outlet for him, so when a friend asked him to sing karaoke at the Arrow one night, he went for it. He found a way to have fun and let loose. That's how he got his karaoke start.
"It was like I was in a home place, like everyone was so nice, so welcoming and loved the music, loved what I was able to offer them," Akin said.
Karaoke is a way to leave his troubles behind. "After a really bad day at work or if I have personal issues going on or whatever it may be, I can sing and all my worries go away. When I hit that first note, it's like I'm in a dream world," said Akin.
He learned some of performing ropes at the Oaklawn Opry, too.
"That was really what helped me turn into the musician and singer that I am today. It helped me learn my stage presence. It helped me find my vocals. It helped me really get a good respect and perspective on country music and the history and what it stands for, the traditions of country music," Akin said, who professes a love for traditional country, a la George Jones.
"He was an icon. He could take one word and twist it and manipulate it, and it sounded so different when he sang it rather than when Garth Brooks would do it. Like two very, very amazing artists, but two totally different styles," Akin said.
Jake's also earned his performance stripes as the national anthem singer for the Demolition Derby during the Four States Fair for several years. He has skills, both at the mic and with the wheels.
"Four years ago was the first time I sang the national anthem and drove in the derby," he said. He'll be doing it again this year.
Now, Akin prepares for that Vegas trip he and his fellow Team Arkansas singers will soon take. "Even though we are a team, we are competing against each other," he said. He's one of six soloists. How's it feel to represent us there at the Karaoke World Championships nationals?
"It is honestly overwhelming. I'm so blessed and honored to have this opportunity," Akin said. He's frankly shocked to have gone this far. He'll keep his voice as solid as he can until the next competition.
"To represent Texarkana and the rest of the 12 that went to state, I mean everybody gave it their all—I'm very honored to be representing them because it's not just for me, it's for everyone that competed with me, my family. I'm not doing this alone at all," Akin said.