Let’s do another CLICKBAIT LIST! This is going to be a series of my all time favorite Hello! Project singers. This is not a list of who I think are the best singers (although similar, that list would not be identical), but rather those whom I enjoy the most. Some names that most H!P fans would expect to be obvious inclusions will not appear here, while others will place much lower than expected, so fair warning. Comments are open, though, so feel free to let me have it. You’re going to have to wait a while, though, because I’m going to slow-drip these out one per day (hopefully) until the list is complete, because I want each of these singers to get their proper propers.
10 – Chisato Okai
I wasn’t a huge fan of C-ute until their last year of existence, so the fact that Chisato made this list at all is pretty incredible. It was the 2016 “Naze Hito wa Arasoun Darou?” single that really caught my attention and made me finally realize, “Oh, they’re not little kids anymore!” I was already well aware of Airi Suzuki’s abilities because Buono! was my favorite H!P group for most of their run, but my regretful self-embargo of Berryz/C-ute meant that Okai flew completely under my radar. The third cut from this single, “Jinsei wa Step!,” was an eye-opener, as Chisato’s voice carried the requisite weight, grit and soul to elevate this wonderful neo-swingbeat track.
While Airi was the voice of C-ute, Chisato was the perfect rock ‘n roll yang to her pure idol ying; the thoroughbred racer to Airi’s dressage champ; the Lennon to her McCartney. It was that mix of styles and timbres that made C-ute special compared to most other idol groups, and like the aforementioned Lennon and McCartney, their voices blended better than the Colonel’s 12 herbs and spices despite their differences. On their duet of “Kanashiki Heaven,” Chisato holds her own next to Airi while mostly singing a lower harmony.
Although Chisato’s strength was high-energy idol-rock, she was versatile enough to excel at pure idol-pop, too, never sounding out of place among a cast of mostly strong idol singers. She even managed to make Miki Fujimoto’s signature song, “Romantic Ukare Mode,” her own for several years. This is a popular choice for H!P singers who get the chance to sing solo, but Chisato is one of the very few to really do it justice. She’s not as effortless as Miki, but her own color works well on it, and she has the ability to add that color because she’s not struggling to hit the notes like most others attempting this song.
Okai’s versatility even extended to ballads, and she really shines on the chorus of this live performance of Aya Matsuura’s “Suna wo Kamu You ni…NAMIDA.” Is it as smooth and easy as Ayaya’s? Of course not, but that’s kind of the point. Her natural soul carries the emotion to make the song hers for that moment, and while I wish she was actually a bit less restrained overall, she smartly doesn’t go overboard.
Let’s face it, though, Chisato was at her best when ripping through something that let her put the pedal to the floor of her muscle-car voice — something like BOØWY’s “Only You.” Aside from her great vocal performance, Chisato shows what a fucking pro she is here, soldiering through flawlessly despite obvious monitor problems, and her GTFO walk-away from the hapless tech trying to fix it is pretty rock and roll.
Chisato is probably the closest thing that H!P ever had to a legit rock singer. Her range (especially on the lower end), vocal weight, emotion and rock ‘n roll bite made her stand out in a group of good but otherwise anodyne J-idol voices, and that’s why Chisato Okai enters this list at number 10.