Local singing competition going silent
After 12 years of singing, 'Hawaii Stars' will flare out
THE COMING 12th season of "Hawaii Stars," hosted by Carole Kai and Kimo Kahoano, will be its last. It will also be completely revamped.
Tapings of the locally produced TV show will move from Ala Moana Center to the Outrigger Main Showroom, home to the Society of Seven for more than 35 of the band's 40 years of performing in Waikiki.
The SOS will choose songs for contestants to sing and will judge the performances alongside two weekly guest judges. The ultimate winner will become the eighth member of the SOS for three months as a grand prize.
"They are an icon," Kai said of the Society of Seven. She noted that Hawaii's Filipino community has given the TV show huge support -- and that with the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to Hawaii, the tie-in is a natural given the SOS' Philippine roots.
The goal of "Hawaii Stars -- The Final Edition" is not, as it has been in the past, "to highlight Hawaii's undiscovered karaoke talent," Kai said. "We are looking to turn our contestants into great show biz performers."
As such, competition is open to amateurs, past champions and professional singers. Performer Anita Hall will compete, as will former "Hawaii Stars" champion Blythe Goya. Contestants will be offered performance coaching from entertainer Sonya Mendez, vocal lessons from Neva Rego, fitness training from Eric Okamura and music lessons from various teachers.
Even the legendary Waikiki show band had humble beginnings. On its first night, "there were four people in the audience," at the old Copacabana, said Fran Kirk, former manager and now executive vice president for Outrigger Entertainment. They were, "Carole Kai, Melveen Leed, Kui Lee and one other person," she said. "They took us over to Don Ho's at the end of that evening and by the end of that (four-week) gig, we were packed," Kirk said. It's good to have friends.
"Hawaii Stars" debuted in 1993 and has enjoyed a run of 12 seasons, though not consecutive because of a two-year hiatus beginning in 2001.
"When we left after eight years, people -- there was a backlash," Kai said. "I guess eight years wasn't time (to end it), so when we came back after two years because of the success of 'American Idol,' KHON kind of forced us to bring it back," she said.
The show was reinvented then, too, with a new format, regular judges -- as opposed to an ever-changing panel -- audience phone calls factoring into the judging and other changes.
Something that hasn't changed is the show's loyal sponsorship. Jiffy Lube has been a sponsor since the beginning, Kai said. Other sponsors, such as American Savings Bank and AIG Hawaii, have sponsored the show for 11 years.
Viewers cannot vote this season, but audience members, families and friends can support contestants via a poll on the "Hawaii Stars" Web site, which will also offer monthly prizes valued at $500. Kai is negotiating to secure a grand prize to be given away via the Web site at the end of the show's run.
Co-host Kimo Kahoano credits Kai for the longevity and success of the show, which became a part of Hawaii's pop culture long before 'American Idol' became a nationwide family viewing craze.
"It's really because Carole has been taking care of business. Without corporate sponsorship and support, you cannot be there," he said.
Kai and Mike McCartney, now president of PBS Hawaii, built the show on the basic concept of putting people singing karaoke on television. "I remember Carole going out ... with a sheet of paper -- and she sold the show in three days," said Dirk Fukushima, Kai's partner in Hawaii Stars Presents Inc.
Sponsorship doesn't bring viewers, however. Fukushima figures the show was a success because "we featured you, your friends, your neighbors and co-workers."
"We gave regular folks a soap box to stand on," he said.
"Hawaii Stars" is calling it quits because the company want to go out while the show is still "on top," Kai said. The company also would like to focus on creating hourlong specials, which can generate greater revenue than the weekly show.
"'Hawaii Stars' was never a huge money-maker," though it never lost money, Kai said.
Kahoano is pleased to have been a part of Hawaii television history. A veteran entertainer, radio personality, actor and master of ceremonies for a variety of events including benefit golf tournaments, he will turn some of his attention to nurturing his sons' musical and performing dreams. Kahoano has also written some songs that he is looking to record.
"Hawaii Stars'" final season begins Sunday, Jan. 22, with a preview show airing at 6:30 and 10:30 p.m. The first taping of competition will be at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Outrigger Main Showroom. The public is invited to be in the audience. Validated parking is offered at the Ohana East hotel.