Johnny Kai

Dwight Okumoto photo

Dwight Okumoto photo

The key to rebuilding Hawaii’s entertainment industry and the ability to earn a musical livelihood, Johnny Kai will argue, is in its youth. Current entertainers, after all, will not be here forever.

Hawaii, he’ll also say, is brimming with talent. But it’s almost impossible for young hopefuls to break through.

“Us old people who have the experience and the knowledge, we have the jobs,” explains Kai. “That’s why the kids can’t come in. They can’t replace our years of experience, and yet we’re getting old.”

It doesn’t help either that many schools lack resources to sustain music-education programs — not to mention the amount of money it takes to build a career in the entertainment industry.

Plus, there is one other very important factor to consider: How does a person even get discovered?

This is where Johnny Kai and Brown Bags to Stardom step in, seeking young, undiscovered artists — at no cost to them.

The concept is simple: Students age 13-18 are invited to submit entries in the Music Video Challenge. It’s a contest that encourages youths to pen original songs and present them in a two- or three-minute music video. Selected winners who meet contest requirements gain the opportunity to receive a recording and one-year management contracts, as well as screen time on Brown Bags to Stardom‘s weekly OC16 show.

All of this fosters what Kai — an accomplished musician himself — believes is crucial for an artist.

“I myself grew up playing cover tunes — you get nowhere,” he says. “It’s original songs that rebuild a music community.

“So the importance of discovering new artists is how we rebuild the future.” Now, Brown Bags to Stardom is branching out to radio — where Kai says it all began for the world-renowned program.

“The fame of Brown Bags actually started with radio and giving those undiscovered talents radio airplay,” he says.

The show airs Saturdays at 7 a.m. on 93.1 Da Pa‘ina. Hosted by Augie T, it incorporates music from recording artists who got their start through Brown Bags to Stardom, and it also will feature contestants from Music Video Challenge.

“The most important thing is that we let kids know that this is an opportunity to write songs and to get yourself heard on the radio,” says Kai.

Brown Bags to Stardom also will present its annual Live Talent Contest Saturday, April 25, at Blaisdell Center. Open to elementary, middle and high school students ages 5-18, competition is in two categories: music or non-music (dance or variety act). Prizes include musical instruments, cash and recording contracts for selected winners.

“If you got talent, and this is what you dream about, you should take advantage of this opportunity,” advises Kai. “You never know.”

The deadline for entries in Brown Bags to Stardom’s Music Video Challenge is April 4. There is a $25 entry fee for its Live Talent Show; deadline to register is April 2. For more information, and for rules and guidelines for both contests, visit