Sing for the Heart participant Lori Mason performs "What I Like About You," by the Romantics, for judge Molly Blakeley during last week's Sing From the Heart competition. This is the second year Mason has sang in the competition, which plays out each week at 6 p.m. in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.
Photo by John Hult
Diversity doesn’t always come from big numbers. The 2006 Sing From the Heart competition, the fourth installment of the central Kenai Peninsula’s version of “American Idol” is proof.
The singers are different, as are the judges and prizes the winner this year gets some studio time.
However, the size of the talent pool has changed. Last year, 44 singers tried out during two days of auditions, and their numbers were whittled to 20 before the competition began. Singers were eliminated at one per week until there were three left, a process that took nearly two months.
Last week, four contestants eliminated themselves by not showing up. The four dropped singers were in the final eight, whittled down from 14 all of whom made it past auditions just for showing up on the day they were held.
According to Sing organizer, Sue Gill, the small number of competitors is a result of the decision to only hold one day of auditions.
Travis Gage looks on as his cousin Tiffany Persinger performs in the competition. Gage and Persinger practice together at home and at the Ministries of the Living Stones Church in Sterling.
Photo by John Hult
Blame it on a singer’s instinct.
“Most people wait until the last day to audition because they want to see the competition,” Gill said of the trend she’s noticed over the competition’s three-year history.
Gill decided to scrap the first day of auditions to combat that trend, but said the results have convinced her to return to the two-day format next year.
The small number of competitors has changed the playing field, to be sure, but the important things haven’t changed.
The five singers who performed last week on the Peninsula Center Mall’s stage sang to a standing-room-only crowd eager to clap along to the rhythm. The contestants also still represent a diverse range of singing, performance and presentation styles.
There is an added benefit to the small size, though, one each singer mentioned in post-competition interviews last week and best summarized by Lacy Oliva:
“It’s more like singing for a family or singing for a group of friends,” Oliva said.
Oliva’s comment was a comparison between Sing and other performance outlets. The former Soldotna resident, back in town for the summer, sang on the same stages as country singers Trace Adkins and Vince Gill before moving south to Reno, Nev., where she resides most of the year with her fiance, Dan Caldwell.
For Oliva, singing on any stage is about the rush, first and foremost.
“Even if it’s a bad audience and not really into it, or if it’s a great audience and they’re totally stoked, it’s like jumping off a cliff,” she said.
Performance at Sing From the Heart involves more than singing, though. Competitors choose and rehearse songs from their own CDs, and song choice makes all the difference for Oliva.
“These are songs that are about me, even though somebody else wrote them or somebody else sang them, they really spoke to me on a personal level,” she said.
Lacy Oliva looks on as fellow competitor Tiffany Persinger performs last week.
Photo by John Hult
She admits she’s sometimes slow to pick the songs she’ll use for the competition, but reasons, “I’m only home for the summer, and I wanted to spend time with my family, so it’s just worked out better to do all my practice on Wednesday night.”
Last week, she sang “I Hope You Dance,” by Lee Ann Womack, and “Perfect,” by Sara Evans. Country is her chosen style, she said, and when she returns home, she’ll prepare to audition for a slot singing the national anthem at the Reno Rodeo.
She’d like to be a professional performer, she said, but also has an associate’s degree in general education and plans to return to school in the future.
“I know I want to work with kids, so that’s where I’m focusing my energies right now,” she said.
The Work Horse
Travis Gage, a 14-year-old from Sterling, puts every bit of energy he can find into singing, as he already knows he wants to sing for a living.
“I see myself performing with the big guys,” he said when asked about his future.
He certainly has the work ethic. Gage chooses his two songs a week in advance, then spends three hours a day practicing them at his church, Ministry of the Living Stones in Sterling. He also sings at home for at least another five hours a day, he said.
“Pretty much tomorrow I’m gonna be starting back up again,” said Gage, who sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Simon and Garfunkel, and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen, last week.
The work is worth it, he said. Putting in the time is easy. It’s the performance aspect of the competition Gage sees as a challenge.
“It’s very hard for me to perform, but when I do it, I feel good about myself, that I can actually do it the way other people do,” he said.
As a novice to a competition-style stage, Gage said he welcomes the constructive criticism of the judges. The competition also has prompted the teen to pay closer attention to his appearance.
“I usually try to dress up like myself, but some songs force me to go outside myself and go into costume. This song tonight (“Bridge”), it’s a ballad song, so you need to wear nice clothing, like a suit, and for Bohemian Rhapsody, you need the rocker look.”
Lori Mason, who took third place in “Sing” in 2004, judged the singers last year and returned to sing in June, is all about the costumes.
“It’s my favorite part,” Mason said. “I was born on Halloween, OK, so costumes are a big part of my life. They get me in the mood, they inspire me.”
When she sings, Mason said she takes on a part, be it the fun-loving go-getter of her first song last week, “What I Like About You,” by the Romantics, or the goofball bride of her second, “Be My Baby,” by the Ronettes.
“I love to entertain people,” she said. “If everyone is having a good time, I’m having a great time.”
The competitive nature of these performances changes the entertaining game, she said. Compared to previous years, however, the competition is less stressful.
“We’re getting ready to get to know each other a little bit better,” she said.
That’s a good thing, she said.
“I do not like the dog-eat-dog competition. I’m all for everyone being for everyone else. We’re all here to have fun.”
Mason hopes to take singing as far as it can go, but has few concrete expectations.
That’s probably a good thing, too.
Melissa Glaves won the contest in 2004 as Melissa Smith. She won prize money, but her new name is a more significant result: she met her husband, Jesse Glaves, during the competition. She was singing, he was filming.
“He always tells people that it was love at first sound,” Glaves said.
Glaves, who is pregnant with the couple’s first child, performed to kickoff last week’s competition.
The win was a great experience, she said, but that experience also shows that the rewards from competition don’t need to be career-related.
After all, a love of music is its own reward.
“Music is always going to be a part of my life, whether I make a CD and send it off or I just sing my baby to sleep, it’s always going to be something that I do.”
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