Step closer: Local idols look to win

Idol Semi-finals

Starr Hill Music Hall
Sunday, July 31

As an artist, I can't think of anything more difficult than covering a song written and popularized by someone else. People tend to have an idea of what a song they've heard before is supposed to sound like, so whoever is performing the cover has to either sing it like the original or reinterpret the song and make it their own.

Now, there's a great deal of skill in mimicry, but an artist can't expect to become known without creating and presenting a unique and personal identity. It's hard enough to find one's own style with an original piece.

That's why I take my hat off to those talent-show singers who get up on stage and pour their hearts into renditions of classic songs.

That's right. I have sympathy and respect for the people on Star Search and American Idol contestants– all the folks who put themselves out to be judged. Like the latter show, the C'ville Idol competition is a place where amateur singers vie for the audience's vote in order to move on to the next round.

Out of seven contestants remaining at Starr Hill July 31, only five would advance to the next round of the competition. I was ready to play the Simon role and shred the contestants, but this wasn't that kind of competition. These television programs accustom us to seeing picture-perfect performers who have been coached in stage presence, made-up by professional stylists, and groomed their entire lives as performers.

Charlottesville is not N.Y. or L.A. where it might be easy to spot entertainers by their fashion sense or expensive scent. As it is, the person with the most talent may not be built like a TV superstar, but may be just an above-average Jane/Joe on the Downtown Mall. I decided that rather than to be too critical, I would try to just enjoy the show.

For this leg of the competition, the contestants had to sing rock songs. We heard everything from classic rock to new alternative, Chubby Checker to Tracy Chapman. The seven contestants were a little shaky and a bit unsure of themselves. One girl sang an Alanis Morissette cover that could blow the hook off "Ironic." At times she sounded so much like Alanis it was scary.

But one other contestant really stood out. When she first got on stage, I wasn't paying too much attention, but it took only a few notes of Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason" for me to be sold on this woman's voice. Although she was by far the best vocalist in the whole competition, she had an extremely plain look and very little stage presence. I love the irony.

More importantly, it seemed she was one of the few who took a song and really transformed it into her own piece. Her voice gave us one good reason to pay attention to her rendition. For that she got my vote.

Anyway, the competition was entertaining for its highs and lows– not to mention that it was such a casual atmosphere in which to watch people get a moment to shine on stage.

I can see the event growing over the next few years. If it does gain momentum, I'll proudly say I was there at the beginning.