Tuesday, January 29, 2008
from Bootleg Magazine Jan 2007
On November 20th the cold silence inside Odell Williamson Auditorium in Brunswick County hung heavy in the air, as if words spoken too loud would crack the silence like overt pressure on thin glass. Merely circumstantial, but those auditioning for Brunswick Idol, a local take on the popular television show, may not have known or felt the pressure.
Nearly forty individuals, adults and teens, auditioned for the upcoming Brunswick Idol show to be held on December 1st sponsored by Brunswick County Parks and Recreation, local newspaper The Brunswick Beacon, The State Port Pilot, Wilmington’s Star News and Waccamaw Media. Contestants will be competing for the 2006 Brunswick Idol title and $500. Teen Idol contestants will be competing for a $250 prize.
Only the sounds of feet walking across the aged black stage floor broke the silence. They would walk midway to a lone microphone under a single stage light. One by one those auditioning would take that long walk from their seats, up the stairs and even further to center stage, some removing the microphone to sing. What caused the auditions to seem awkward was that they were all done a cappella. For some songs it made little difference, such as four different renditions of ‘Amazing Grace’ but for songs popular on the radio the breaks between verses led to elongated silences between them. Some would carry the beat by tapping their leg or snapping fingers to keep time. It was uncomfortable but inadvertently led to testing an individual’s ability to hold presence in spite of it all.
During auditions there was only one person who stopped during their song. Those in charge of the event were patient and encouraged them to continue trying. Songs ranged from religious standards to Joe Cocker to R&B. The three judges sat in the empty auditorium rating the auditions on pitch, rhythm and stage presence on a scale from one to five. There was little similar to television’s American Idol regarding criticisms to those auditioning.
The auditions were intended to select fifteen individuals to put on a show on December 1st. Some auditioning clearly had singing experience and others were raw talent, in no way meant to impugn anyone. It takes a great deal for anyone to step onstage, especially those who aren’t possessed with a ‘look at me’ complex. Many who tried out, and would go on to sing at the show, possessed something that was individualistic and rich in character, whether it was a female singer’s raw growl when singing ‘Baby, I love you’ and calling to mind Sheryl Crow or Allan Nicosia’s perfectly passionate rendition of ‘You Don’t Know Me’ or Louise Harrison’s soulful take on ‘Up Where We Belong.’
Depending on what school of thought one ascribes to will reflect in the opinion cast on those auditioning. Frankly, sometimes music has an overabundance of perfection in it, and the flaws embolden music to be unique and beautiful. That is not to suggest that badly bent notes are acceptable, but there a million different ways to sing, as long as it generates personality. Some would argue that Janis Joplin is harsh to listen to and doesn’t sing properly. There are numerous successful singers who would have been shot down at auditions such as these. Long ago a quote from Eric Clapton was printed that that there are singers who are just perfect and then there’s everyone else, that’s what rock and roll is for. To a reasonable extent Clapton was right, coupled with an individual’s passion for music. Truth be told, not everyone there that night, and for the show, were ‘perfect’ but there was a degree of passion missing professionally these days.
Fifteen finalists were chosen to perform for the show. The night of December 1st contestants mingled quietly backstage, some sat alone awaiting their chance to perform. Anna Kooiman, fill-in anchor for WWAY TV-3, checked her hair before taking the stage as this year’s host of Brunswick Idol.
Shortly before show time seats began to fill up. Friends and family brought homemade signs to show support. The Teen Idol contestants were first with Jessica Holden singly the timely ‘Where Are You Christmas?’ Gregory Wright followed next with a powerful and moving ‘I Need You Now’ originally done by Smokie Norful which would win the Teen competition that night. Wright had tight competition when Allie McDowell took the stage to perform ladies favorite ‘Before He Cheats.’ McDowell moved around the stage punching the chorus vocally and emotionally. Equally emotional was Tyrone Hill Jr.’s ‘State of Peace’ which he wrote and closed with emotional outpouring.
The night moved along as the adult contestants were next and made up the bulk of the show. The songs to come were both personal and outright fun. One performer would falter and gain support of the audience who helped steer him to sing a number dedicated to his wife more passionately than perhaps he may have thought.
Dale Robbins, a former storm tracker for WWAY Channel 3 performed the Kenny Rogers classic ‘Lady,’ dedicated to his wife of ten years. Robbins was seemingly beset by forgetting a line in the song and looked stage right as though he were about to leave. But before taking a step the crowd largely clapped encouragement and Robbins continued on, coming back so much stronger, singing with greater conviction and force. He received heavy praise from the audience for coming back. But he lost concentration again and may not have been forgetfulness but perhaps nervousness. He then pulled it together to belt out the chorus even stronger. Every time he faltered he came back even better, like a fighter that will not stay down.
Allan Nicosia returned to the stage performing ‘You Don’t Know Me’ with such emotion and conviction that he was nearly drowned out by the ladies in the audience. You could hear the women shouting approval for Nicosia’s passion. “I’ve been performing since the third grade,” the Buffalo native said. Nicosia recently moved to the area.
Casey Townsend brought his guitar to accompany his version of Edward McCain’s ‘I’ll Be.’ Townsend chose the song based on his vocal range, making it slightly more pumped up than the original, and singing loud enough to crack the ceiling. He plays in the band Convex Lens out of Bolivia.
As if the energy levels could not have grown any higher, La’Monica Hill took her place on stage in a glittering gown, causing her to appear beautifully fluorescent. Then, she sang and it may have the night’s pinnacle. Alicia Keys’ ‘If I ain’t got You’ showcased the singer’s strength and elicited prompt approval from the crowd.
The show took a delightful turn with the appearance of Maurice White, er, Mojo. While much of the music of the evening was romantic or religious in nature, it was a delightful change to have Mojo perform the twelve bar blues staple ‘Give Me One Reason.’ White is a transplant from the Bahamas, moving to North Carolina after selling a bed and breakfast he built and sold. “I came out here surfing and stayed due to the laid back attitude,” he says comparing the area to the Bahamas.
White came out of the darkness sporting a Simpsons SideShow Bob size wig with bellbottom jeans and a shiny, sequined shirt. Standing alone with his guitar and a heft of stage presence, he funkily worked through Tracy Chapman’s classic and the crowd was quick to respond, clapping and cheering on his energy.
Kenneth Yunus also performed a song dedicated to his wife, ‘Your Man’, taking his song off the stage and down to the floor seats. His move to the audience was greeted with wild applause, a spotlight moving from the stage to follow him. Yunus’ bright red shirt seemed to glow in the dark of the auditorium.
Myron Hewett, who works for Progress Energy, should have won the award for captivating hearts with his rendition of ‘Just Once.’ He moved about the stage with a wink in his eye and a come hither stare. His performance elicited audience members to lift their cell phones in the air and wave them. Across the auditorium a wave of small square lights rocked back and forth and Hewett lured the audience in.
Shortly after Hewett’s performance the final numbers were tallied up and the winners announced. Gregory Wright, 17, won the Teen Idol title and a cash prize of $250. La’Monica Hill, 22 and a mother of two, took home the title of Brunswick idol 2006 and a five hundred dollar cash prize.
Brunswick Idol may have been a small town affair but the performances on stage were anything but. It was a night of entertainment and locals showing off their love for music and taking full advantage of a night to perform.