By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Apr 29, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Let’s face it. On a national stage, the amateur singing challenge thing has been around the block a few times. "American Idol," "The Voice," "America’s Got Talent," the list goes on and on.

But on a local level, it’s still pretty thrilling to get on stage in front of a live band, facing a cheering audience, putting your personal spin on beloved cover tunes. The idea that you could win $1,000, studio recording time and a gig at Red Rock Saloon is practically gravy, right?

OK, maybe it’s a little more than gravy.

The Red Rockstar II competition runs for four weeks in May, kicking off this Wednesday at Red Rock Saloon, 1227 N. Water St. We’ve already told you about Live Band Karaoke, an amazing experience even when you’re not competing for cash.

But when you are, there’s plenty on the line for the contestants who’ve signed up (sorry, registration is closed). Unlike the usual Live Band Karaoke events, the on-screen lyrics will stay off to the side, only serving as a safety net for contestants. A group of "celebrity judges" (including this author) will pick who goes to the next round and who goes home.

When it’s all over, the winner will find himself or herself in a pretty good position to play rock star for real.

In all, Red Rockstar II consists of seven weeks of performances, says Red Rock Saloon’s Wes Shaver. The first three weeks were qualifying auditions, and the final four weeks of competition will determine the finalists.

And unlike traditional karaoke competitions, you won’t have to worry about hearing the same song all night during this contest.

"Once we get into the competition, the (singers) have first-come, first-serve priority to choose their songs," says Shaver. "Artists can’t do the same song as someone else on the same night."

By the time this Wednesday rolls around, the William Hungs should be long gone. Of course, having the talented Live Band Karaoke band backing the singers will make everyone sound that much better, but the performers have already been vetted by the auditions.

Now it’s time to see the showmanship that comes along with the talent. The group knows at least 300 songs, and unlike singing along to a CD, singers can play off the band’s energy. The fluidity and improvisation of a performance with a trio of talented musicians really brings the experience to life.

Judges include working Milwaukee musicians, members of the media and people who work in the music industry. Shaver says he isn’t looking for the next Simon Cowell, either. "It’s a real diverse group of people who get involved with it," he says.

Says Shaver, "It’s a great time. Last year, we had 67 people audition, and only 20 went into the competition. A lot of talented – and fun – people come out for it. It’s literally like a local ‘American Idol.’"

It all wraps up on May 22. Beyond the cash prize, the winner will earn a highly visible spot opening for a regional or national act on an upcoming Friday at Red Rock Saloon. And that 10 hours of studio time isn’t bad, either.

The fun kicks off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. May the best singer win.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.