She may sing party anthems about the joys of getting hammered, but Winter Bond knows one doesn't have to live the song to sing the song. In fact, to win arguably the biggest karaoke contest in Kern County -- as Bond did last year -- contestants should follow what to many is a very un karaoke-like strategy: remain stone-cold sober.

"I sang 'Here for the Party' by Gretchen Wilson, which is a drinky kind of song, but I'm not a drinky kind of girl," said Bond, 30, the reigning female champ of the Road to the Fair contest.

"I like the crowd pleasers."

Starting this week, a dozen local karaoke venues are hosting several rounds of competition, free to contestants and open to all ages.

A male and female finalist will be selected to represent each bar or restaurant at a concert at the Kern County Fair on Sept. 24.

A panel of five judges will crown the 2012 male and female winners, who will walk away with $500 and a recording session at American Sound Recording studio in Bakersfield, among other prizes.

"It could take you to the next step of your career," said Kyle Brown, who runs the Road to the Fair contest, now in its sixth year in the present incarnation.

That's certainly been the case for Bond, a special education teacher who wasn't doing much to pursue her dream of a singing career until she made some valuable contacts at last year's competition. Now she's part of a vocal group that meets every Monday evening.

"I've always wanted to be on stage entertaining people, but I wanted it to be for a good reason, so I don't go out to karaoke, to avoid the bar scene and the drunken people. But I like the spotlight, I'm not going to lie."

And to win in this competition, the spotlight has to like you.

It's not enough to sound like Gretchen Wilson if your idea of showmanship is reading from a video monitor.

"I did jeans and boots like she would do," Bond said. "You try to match the singer. I put in black hair extensions and wore a straw cowboy hat. It wasn't necessarily my best song, but I have stage presence and can dress the part."

Echoing the point, Brown usually brings up a performer's charisma rather than vocal ability when reminiscing about the competition's standout moments.

There was the woman -- a member of a local roller derby team -- who performed "Cowboy's Sweetheart" on roller skates, and 2008 finalist Noah Claunch, who took the crown after leaping off the stage into the crowd.

"And then there was this little kid, I think he was 9 or 10," Brown recalled. "He was a really, really good singer and he sang Justin Bieber's 'Baby, Baby' and the crowd went wild. He didn't win, but it was awesome."

In fact, though pint-sized performers have made it to every fair concert, no child has ever taken top honors. Call it the curse of the cutie pies.

"I think they (kids) might have a bigger struggle in vocal ability and that's the biggest part of the criteria," said Brown, noting that voice accounts for 35 percent of the score.

For Bond, who like other past winners is ineligible to compete again, the best part of coming out on top was her plaque and the memories of performing in front of an audience -- in particular her own personal rooting section.

"My parents came from Arizona, and it was the first time they had seen me sing in 10 years, so I was super-excited about that. It's definitely a God-given talent. I have to give credit to the big man above."