New Maori TV show Sidewalk Karaoke takes to the streets, and the world

It's hot. But it's even hotter in front of the camera, under the lights and the scrutiny of crowd of strangers.

Tai Waru steps onto her mark, squares off in front of the camera and gives the crew a nod and a smile. The music starts.

Warwick Avenue by Duffy plays through the speakers and the crowd from the Henderson Night Market is drawn like moths to the limelight as Waru begins to sing along.

She has a lovely voice, she hits the notes, she keeps good time, but when the machine weighs up her tone, pitch and speed, she's found wanting.

She has to score 70 or higher to move to round two, but she's under and then she's out.

It's karaoke, only more cut throat.

The next singer steps up to the plate. Siouxzanne Matete is the picture of confidence even as she takes on one of the greatest singers of her generation: Beyonce.

Not only does she nail round one for the $100 cash prize, but she also nails round two, banking an extra $100. Now's the hard part though.

This isn't any old singing competition, this is Sidewalk Karaoke - a new Maori Television show which hasn't even aired in New Zealand yet, but the producer is already making deals to take it worldwide.

It's the singing game show where even if you're good enough on your own, if you can't convince someone else to sing a duet with you, it's game over.

Matete sprints around the crowd of onlookers - all of them now desperately staring at the ground or not-so-subtly edging away.

In the end, it's her reluctant fiancee who's dragged into the spotlight.

The difference between Matete and the others is only a matter of confidence.

Take Tai Waru; she only sings in the shower, in kapa haka or after she's been built up by a bit of Dutch courage.

"I'm more of a person to be comforted by everyone else around me - singing with people," she says.

"This is the first time I've ever stood in front of a lot of people ever. I'm just starting to get out of my comfort zone."

Not unlike Matete's reluctant fiancee, Waru was pushed to take part.

Her friend Kelly Dunn knew "she just needed a little bit of tautoko, manaaki [support, encouragement]" to get started, and "once she did, tumeke".

And Waru says she's already more confident for having done it.

"If I can do that, I know I can do anything else. I think for me, I'm going through that time of my life where I need to accept the person that I am and take risks because you know, any day I could die," she says.

"And having my friend bring me here and give me that confidence to actually do something I never thought I'd ever do, it was cool."

Matete, on the other hand, is dripping with confidence.

"I'm a natural on stage, as everyone says. I've been doing kapa haka so I'm used to it," she says.

Her fiancee Anthony Rose is less of a natural, but he never had a chance to say no.

"It was actually on my bucket list to get him on camera, because I thought it would be impossible," says Matete.

And after getting all the way to round three on Sidewalk Karaoke, her confidence has been bolstered even further.

"I know I definitely will be [performing again in future], he definitely will be with me," she says, despite Rose's protest.

"I look forward to walking up on the Grammy stage and getting my Grammy, and everything else, so Lady Gaga, watch out."

FIRST THE STREETS, THEN THE WORLD

Sidewalk Karaoke was created and developed especially for Maori TV by award-winning producer Bailey Mackey (Code, The GC).

The concept is simple: a crew of about 20 takes its karaoke machine and cameras on the road, sets up somewhere like the night market and get whoever's willing to sign up for some good, old-fashioned karaoke.

In round one, you choose a song, belt it out, and if you score above 70, you win $100. Round two is double or nothing, but this time the producers choose a song for you and you have to score 80 or above.

In round three, there's $1000 up for grabs but as Matete found out the hard way, you then have to convince someone - literally anyone in the vicinity - to sing a duet with you, and even if you can do that you still have to score 80 or above.

It's a simple format, and one Bailey's had in the back of his mind for years.

He first pitched it as Karaoke Cab, which would be the same format only taking place as random people got into the back of a taxi.

But don't go comparing it to James Corden's now world-famous Carpool Karaoke.

"That's totally different because that's celebrities, whereas this is sort of more random, everyday people," he says.

Besides: "James Corden I think, has done really well - it's an online phenomenon. But the ratings for the actual TV show aren't that great".

At any rate, the cab idea didn't stick and Bailey soon figured the way to go was to hit the streets.

"I was really keen on trying to develop a show that was the opposite to the big talent formats like X-Factor and things like that. It had to be kind of nimble, I guess lo-fi enough to entice anybody into it," he says.

"I like to say, it's a show that might not change your life but it will change your night."

Mackey quickly discovered the night markets were a good location, because on the streets or in train stations, people were usually on their way somewhere and therefore in a rush.

"There's a concentrated amount of people for a certain amount of time, most are happy because they're eating some great food, and the ethnic diversity is really good at the night markets as well," says Mackey.

Many of those signing up to sing have - like Matete and Waru - come from kapa haka backgrounds, others come from church singing groups and choirs. But still, others are coming from out of left field, and that's the point.

"There's a lot you can't control but that's kind of what makes it exciting. We show up just not knowing who's going to walk on set and there's a real power to that, and a real magnetism. The idea for us is to be able to capture that spontaneity and that unknownness," says Mackey.

The best part is that the app, which calculates the singers' scores is going to be made available to the public, too.

There will be one "sing-along song" per episode which, when it plays on TV will automatically launch the app through voice recognition technology, then viewers can play along at home and compare their scores to those on TV.

It's a simple format and like Mackey says, a fairly "low-fi" affair, but it's one which has garnered huge international interest.

Mackey is currently on the verge of closing deals to share the format in some 17 countries, and has already closed a deal in the UK.

"Mate, it's huge. For me, it's the fulfilment of 17 long years of hard slog. It's potentially life changing, so it means a lot," says Mackey.

"Making TV is tough....but what you hope for is to create a show that has interest internationally and Sidewalk Karaoke is that show.

"I really think it's a show that's just about having fun, it's got a big heart."

And while the singers aren't going on to sign record deals or embark on worldwide tours, they do become celebrities for a night - and $1000 doesn't hurt either.

One young man, Manihera Waru smashes through all three rounds of Sidewalk Karaoke in Henderson, pulling in his father to sing a Bob Marley classic on round three.

Later, a passerby shouts, "what did you win?"

He responds, "a grand".

The verdict? "Too much, bro."

Sidewalk Karaoke premieres on Maori TV, Thursday, May 5 at 8.30pm.

 - Stuff

Sidewalk Karaoke: Simple, Yet So Awesome

Forget Carpool Karaoke, New Zealand has its own show and it's for the people - not just celebrities.

Sidewalk Karaoke is Maori TV's new anti-talent show, designed to give the average Kiwi their 15 minutes in the limelight and a chance to make an easy $1000.

The show was brought in by the network to replace Homai Te Pakipaki, which finished last year on account of "budget cuts" and the tightening of purse strings.

Sidewalk Karaoke is the low-budget, low-fi answer to those cuts.

It's a simple set-up: a karaoke machine, an app which rates your performance, some lights, cameras and some action.

A small crew takes to the streets (and night markets) of Auckland, sets up the karaoke machine and passers-by pick songs from a lineup including hits by everyone from Prince to Beyonce.

In round one the singer picks a song and plays for $100. They have to score above 70 on the specially made app, which judges based on speed, pitch and tone.

If they score high enough, they move on to round two, in which the producers pick a song and singers have to score 80 or higher to either double their money or lose it all.

Finally, round three puts $1000 up for grabs, and you still only have to score 80.

The catch? You have to get someone to sing the song with you.

It's a simple format, but one which has garnered global attention.

Producer and show creator Bailey Mackey says interest in the format has been growing steadily and he's now negotiating deals with "potentially up to 33 countries".

And though he's keeping tight-lipped about the specifics, Mackey says the implications of the show's success are huge, not only opening the door for international shows to be produced here in New Zealand, but for more Maori to pick up work internationally.

"I think the fun is, you know, karaoke is one of those elements of life that is a lot of people's guilty pleasure. I think there's a little bit of a singer in all of us and there's nothing better than when you're at a karaoke bar and someone completely nails a song," he says.

"There's that mixture of envy and, I guess, hope that when it's your turn you'll do just as well."

And those watching at home will get their chance to find out, as the show's app will be available so viewers can play along at home.

Former Homai Te Pakipaki great Te Hamau Nikora is the show's host and sideline cheerleader for the contestants, and says even with the world's eyes on Sidewalk Karaoke, it's still a Kiwi show with a lot of heart.

"I'm sure now [international producers] will be watching what we're doing, and get to see my style I guess.

"And then hopefully I'll get to make that movie with Eddie Murphy that I've always wanted to make," he laughs.

"The show is really, really slick. It's homely, it's family, but it's entertaining and competitive at the same time. For me, it's like Homai Te Pakipaki but a step up and a step out, and a bit more accessible."

- NZ Herald

‘Think Singstar on wheels’ – The simple genius of Maori TV’s Sidewalk Karaoke

Madeleine Chapman watches Sidewalk Karaoke, the new homespun singing competition by Māori TV.

Sidewalk Karaoke, the latest release on Māori TV, is exactly what you would expect: karaoke sung on the sidewalk. Think Singstar on wheels. Think cracking highs when sober. Think shopping mall talent quest outside the mall.

The budget is shamelessly sparse – no judges, just a machine – which is right in line with the show’s premise. Sing a song, receive a score of over 70 from the machine, and win $100. Sing another song, score over 80, and by gosh you get $200. Pick a random singing partner from the crowd that has gathered, sing a duet that scores over 80, and I’ll be damned if you don’t take home a crisp $1000.

Host Te Hamua Nikora keeps it simple. He looks like he just loves karaoke and knows all the words to every song, even when the contestants don’t. He rolls the ‘r’ in “karaoke” and pronounces it with flair so it becomes “Kah-rah-aw-keh”.

The contestants’ backstories only go as far back as what they were doing when they saw theSidewalk Karaoke setup. One was out with her kids, one had gotten a text from a friend, and one was a fire dancer apparently looking to profit from his new business competitor.

The first contestant in Sidewalk Karaoke history was Natasha Baldwin, who chose to sing ‘Take It Easy’ by The Eagles. Give her the grand prize for her song choice alone, I say. She scored a 75 and was so stoked about winning $100 that once again I say just give her the grand. Instead she wisely chose to take the money and buy a feed for her kids. You go, Natasha, and don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.

Fire dancer Rory performed his dance worryingly close to a lot of electrical equipment before announcing that he had never sung karaoke before. As it turned out, he wasn’t great but hey, you can’t knock the hustle.

The big winner of the premiere show was Roland Williams, a storeman and 2009 winner of Homai te Pakipaki. His first song choice was ‘Dance With My Father’ by Luther Vandross. THEY ALL DESERVE A THOUSAND DOLLARS AND A JOB AT THE BREEZE. Unsurprisingly he nailed it, then nailed the second song, then found a duet partner in 10 seconds and nailed the final song. Ten hundred dollar bills to Roland and one bloody good show for all the viewers.

Sidewalk Karaoke is so simple it’s genius. There’s no nastiness or focus on those contestants who don’t win – and there are a lot. Instead it’s a goodnatured show that leaves you wanting everyone to win a thousand dollars. I can already see the very same idea being used on The Tonight Show and watched millions of times on Youtube. Except Jimmy Fallon will pronounce “Karaoke” as “Carry-okey” so it won’t have that same spark.

- The SpinOff

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