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In pursuit of karaoke greatness

MATTHEW KLEBES, The Dalles Main Street coordinator, poses with Dia Nickelsen and Eloy Pando of the Oregon Karaoke Challenge.

Photo by Kathy Ursprung
MATTHEW KLEBES, The Dalles Main Street coordinator, poses with Dia Nickelsen and Eloy Pando of the Oregon Karaoke Challenge.

Promoter Eloy Pando wants to put The Dalles on the map as the karaoke capital of —at the least — the Pacific Northwest and he has some community leaders buying into his vision.

Pando sees karaoke as more than a trivial barroom pastime. He’s bringing it out of dimly lit bars and into the bright light of local festivals, parks and theaters. For people who dream about vocal fame, he sees karaoke as a potential stepping stone to bigger and better things.

“We make everything very respectful and professional, and people are loving it,” Pando said in a recent interview.

This is the third year of Pando Production Studio’s Oregon Karaoke Challenge. The first year it drew contestants mainly from the local area. During the second it added Hermiston auditions.

This is a building year for the event. Pando will be holding auditions and accumulating a pool of potential contestants with the idea of making the event into a regional reality show.

Last year, two of the competition’s contestants went to Nashville auditions for “The Voice,” where singers compete to work with some of the top voices in the music industry.

Dia Nickelsen’s 2012 Oregon Karaoke Challenge championship earned her a trip to the national competition in 2013.

“I knew the odds were slim,” said Nickelsen, who did not get a callback from the event. “But just by the fact that I was there, I met some amazing people, including two gals I’ve become close with.”

Her advice to people with a dream of auditioning? “Sing your heart out, give it your best and try not to be nervous.”

Nickelsen did fulfill a longtime dream in Nashville to sing “Amazing Grace” on stage at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. She did it in honor of her late grandfather.

Dakota Brown, the other Oregon Karaoke Challenge auditioner to “The Voice,” won a call-back after the initial auditions, but did not make it to the final 100 that went to California.

By filming a pilot for the Oregon Karaoke Challenge, Pando hopes KGW, NBC’s Oregon affiliate, will pick up the program so the Challenge can have a closer tie to “The Voice.” Ideally, he’d like to see contest winners have the opportunity to bypass the cattle call round of the national show and enter competition at the next level.

This year’s first challenge audition will be the evening of July 12 during the Jammin’ July Street Fest. The audition area will be at Second and Union streets, outside NAPA Auto Parts.

“Jammin’ July is the perfect platform for this family-friendly event,” said Matthew Klebes, coordinator for The Dalles Main Street, which organizes the street festival. “Several thousand people come in for the event.”

Pando has created a mobile audition vehicle out of a repurposed 17-foot U-Haul truck that has been affectionately dubbed the “Port-a-Party.”

He also plans to continue auditions this year in Hermiston and Hood River.

Pando has worked out an agreement with The Dalles Civic Auditorium for its theater to serve as home base for the contest. That’s where he plans to film scenes for the TV pilot.

“The Civic sees this as the kind of use for the Civic Auditorium that we’ve been working toward,” said Mayor Steve Lawrence, who serves on the Civic board, noting that it dovetails nicely with efforts under way to rehabilitate the theater. That project is just getting back its final construction documents and plans to seek funding and proposals for the project.

As the community’s event center, Lawrence sees the Civic as the ideal venue for the Oregon Karaoke Challenge and said it aligns well with the board of directors’ vision.

Learn more about the Oregon Karaoke Challenge and progress on the television pilot online at


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