Bigger news: Last Sunday, Canadian Catherine St. Onge won the grand championship in Animax's second annual All-Japan Anime Song Grand Prix!
That six-hour event, held at JCB Hall in the shadow of the Tokyo Dome, was contested by 10 finalists (11 folks; one entry was a duo)--the top two finishers from this summer's regional eliminations in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Sapporo.
A few weeks before the big final, I was tickled to learn that the winner in Tokyo (of more than 2,000 regional applicants!) had been Yuusuke Shimizu; we're both students in the VLOMIQ vocal program. Second in Tokyo had been Catherine St. Onge, perennial karaoke champion at several North American anime cons, who's lived in Japan for the past six months. With two rooting interests, and the added attraction of an all-star slate of special-guest pros (ranging from classic performers Akira Kushida and Ichirou Mizuki, to teen faves AKB48 and Nana Kitade, and of course last year's winner, Shuuhei Kita), you bet I hopped on the chance to get one of the free admission postcards distributed at Kushida-san's Utau-zo 16!
In the Grand Prix finals, there were three rounds--each judged by a panel of 10 industry pros, and filmed to be broadcast November 16 on Animax. The first round would whittle the field from 10 to seven. The second would eliminate five more. The audience would then vote one of the eliminated five back in, and the top two from the second round would be joined by the audience's choice for the final round to compete for the Grand Prix's grand prize: a pro debut, performing the theme song of a to-be-announced new anime series.
I love close contests, and until near the end of the first round, that's what this was...until the 10th finalist, Catherine St. Onge, took the stage to sing ".hack/Roots" theme "Silly-Go-Round." The other finalists had all been quite good--but she was in a different league entirely; what a jewel of a voice! The judges rewarded her with a score of 90; the rest had been in the 80s and 70s. Come round two, she scored a 91 or 92 (or was it 93?Shoulda taken notes...) on "Adesso E Fortuna" from "Record of Lodoss War," with an even greater gap back to the runner-up. She and Hikari Inoue--who at 14 was almost half her age--advanced to the final, joined by audience choice Airi Furukawa (I voted for Shimizu-san, who'd ended round two tied for third).
Furukawa-san has a fantastic voice, and did superbly for someone who found out about 20 minutes before the final that she'd get to be in it (she'd been fifth or sixth in round two). Then Hikari-chan came out to sing "Naruto Shippuuden" third opening theme "Blue Bird," cosplaying as Sasuke...and it was one of the most gutsy performances I've ever seen. She poured every ounce she had into it! Partway through, her voice seemed like it might go--but she didn't back off; she sang even harder! We were all going crazy, cheering her on, and she looked every instant like she was having the time of her life. That kind of effort, and that kind of joy--that's what singing anime songs is about!
And then came Catherine St. Onge. It's weird, but now I can't remember what she sang--just the shock when she suddenly blanked on a line! She caught back quick...but soon after that, she briefly blanked again. Had that opened the door for Hikari-chan? Only the judges knew, and they weren't tellin' until after AKB48 had finished tracking up the stage.
In the end, tearful Catherine St. Onge was triumphant, and cheerful Hikari Inoue earned a special award from the judges. Mondo congratulations to 'em both--especially to Catherine, who's going where no foreign anison fan has gone before!