Karaoke Battle USA Shines a National Spotlight on Ali Russo
Woodlands resident aspires to be well-known for her music and voice
By Melanie Saxton
The Woodlands is home to a Karaoke enthusiast with big dreams and an even bigger talent. Twenty-four-year-old Ali Russo comes from a musical family of full-blooded Italians. Her grandparents sang opera. Their children (including Russo’s mother) performed in group chorus lines and on Broadway. Perhaps this explains why Russo has been singing since she was two. “My mom says I’ve always been a little performer,” says Russo, who has sung in church her whole life.
Russo was first introduced to Karaoke at age 15 in West Virginia. “My mom and aunt never missed Karaoke Night, and I finally tried it. We were at a little family restaurant with a pub and game room. The younger crowds were welcomed and I found that I just loved being on a Karaoke stage,” says Russo. “That five minutes felt like my own personal mini-concert.” Ali moved to The Woodlands and joined the ranks of local enthusiasts who are part of the quietly growing underground past time. Since her first debut, Russo has never looked back.
For Russo, performing in front of crowds is what she loves best. “Good response or bad response (the crowds tend to be honest), it’s a relaxed atmosphere. You’re among friends,” says Russo. She’s been drawn to jobs that keep her close to Karaoke venues. “I’ve worked in the bar business for years, and have noticed Karaoke getting bigger and bigger.” says Russo. “Word of mouth keeps bringing in new fans. Even if a person can’t sing, they can let loose and have an enjoyable night.”
Russo thinks bands are great, but hearing different styles and voices all night long is what sets Karaoke apart. “Some people take Karaoke very seriously while others just want to have fun. It can open doors for anybody, especially singers who want to practice,” says Russo … and she should know. She’s been televised on the new ABC hit show Karaoke Battle USA, hosted by Joey Fatone and judged by Carnie Wilson.
“I auditioned for Karaoke Battle USA because a DJ friend of mine showed up at bar one night talked me into it. I really didn’t want to. … it was just another contest and they all have production schedules. It’s hard to juggle my work and my 2-year-old,” says Russo, who has been in many contests including the popular Beachfront Idol, which turned into a 7-week commitment. When she decided to try out for Karaoke Battle USA she auditioned successfully amidst hundreds who showed up. Russo was among the few to get call back after call back. “I returned to the same local bar — Exit 73 in The Woodlands—where the original contest was held. I made it through the finals as a crowd favorite (people’s choice) then went on to the state competition with people all over Texas.” She took first place and was called to the House of Blues in Houston for regionals. People from Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas were filmed.
“What they show on TV is actually the fifth round, not the auditions. I got to showcase my talent and it was a thrilling experience, but only two out of 60 went on to Los Angeles. From there, two were picked to sing off in Ireland.” All the excitement will be aired in upcoming episodes.
According to Russo, the Karaoke Battle USA competition has been going on for some time and this is the first season ABC picked it up for TV. “Next year it may go bigger and have a call-in component like American Idol or The Voice,” says Russo. Interestingly, Russo interviewed with Lifestyles & Homes on the very day she auditioned for The Voice. She didn’t make the cut, but that won’t deter her from her goal. “I’m a singer-songwriter and write my own music, play guitar, and want a career in the industry. Television is a great way to get attention, but it is also a way to entertain a huge audience. I want to share my voice with people on a big stage for a big effect.”
For Russo, music is a calling. She learned guitar from her mom and has the natural knack to play any musical instrument. “In school I picked up the flute and clarinet and it took about five minutes to learn to read music,” says Ali. She is thrilled that a fourth generation is proving to be musically inclined. “Most 2-year-olds won’t pay attention to anything but cartoons, but my little guy, Jay-Jay, stays glued to music videos. He’s hilarious, banging on drums and pounding on the guitar. At a recent VFW event he grabbed the mike and sang away.”
Russo says her greatest inspirations are her son, her mom and two pushy brothers, who support her efforts tirelessly. One in particular, Nick, acts as her manager and overloads her cell phone and email with news on every competition out there. “I get teary-eyed when I think of the people who love and support me,” says Russo. “I couldn’t do it without them.”
As for her future aspirations, Russo will continue to perform on Karaoke stages and audition in contests until her voice and her music is well-known all over the nation.
For more on Karaoke Battle USA, visit abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/Karaoke_USA/.
If You Want to Try Karaoke….
To check out the fun, try these
local Karaoke venues:
-Exit 73, exit73bar.com
-Baker’s Street Pub, sherlockspubco.com
-Papa’s Ice House, papasicehousetx.com
-Bareback Bar and Icehouse, barebackbar.com
-Nineteenth Hole, 19th.cc
-Barney’s Billiard Saloon, barneysbilliards.com/offices.asp?id=128102&page=1.