Arnold couple Thomas and Ronnell Hein have had a whirlwind of a summer, following their karaoke passion from the Metropolitan in San Andreas to Los Angeles, and then on to Las Vegas to compete in the national finals for the Karaoke World Championships (KWC).

Thomas Hein, 43, secured seventh place out of 89 performers during the grueling Aug. 18-21 competition at South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, and his wife, Ronnell, also 43, placed 40th.

Song choices for the couple ranged from classic country and soul, to contemporary pop.

Unfortunately, neither placed high enough to represent the U.S. in Tokyo this fall, but both came home from Vegas with an expanded group of friends and a roadmap of how to improve next year.

“I had a 130 friend requests just from Vegas,” Thomas Hein told the Enterprise. “You’re happy for people and sad for people you’ve never met before. It’s a really cool family they got there.”

In Hein’s words, the level of talent displayed at the event was “unreal” from first place to 89th, shattering his expectations of what karaoke could be.

“Those people are like artists,” he said.

For the crooning couple, the journey from San Andreas to Las Vegas was an evolution in performance abilities and overcoming stage fright, with the help of local supporters and sponsors.

Fellow Team Metropolitan member Rob Bryon, who competed in the state finals, supplied the pair with costumes, and local businesses including Big Trees Market, Murphys Pourhouse, Spence Ranch Feed and Supply, Bistro Espresso and the Turcotte family covered their travel expenses.

The Heins were accompanied to Vegas by Team Metropolitan coach and 2013 KWC nationals champion Kimberly Annand, who was a judge for the duet category during this year’s competition.

“It was a wonderful experience to work with Thomas and Ronnell! They are both extremely talented! Every time they took the stage, they blew me away. We got to know them even better than we did before. They were our friends and now they are like family,” Annand told the Enterprise. “They have taken all of this in and will apply what they learned to do it all again next year! I didn’t win my first year. I didn’t even place in the top 10, but I came back the following year and won!”

Annand, also owner of Sweet Harmony Entertainment, says that next year, she is planning to expand the KWC Northern California qualifiers beyond the Metropolitan, which was the only venue in the region to participate this year. She also hopes to recruit more “KJ’s” (DJ’s who facilitate karaoke) to host the qualifiers at various locations.

As for the Heins, they are already onboard for next year’s competition and intend to take their abilities even further with what they learned this summer. They thanked Sweet Harmony Entertainment, the Metropolitan and their sponsors for allowing them to compete in the beloved pastime that initially brought them together.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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