On Oct. 15 at Lakfefront stage, 10 local youths will sing their hearts out with hopes of capturing the title “Columbia Teen Idol” and a cash prize of $300. Hosted by the Columbia Association, the competition has been spotlighting teens every fall for 15 years.
“I still can’t believe it is our 15th year,” said Rene Buckmon, manager of the youth and teen programs for the Columbia Association. “We definitely have made some significant changes since the first one.”
Based on the television show “American Idol,” Columbia Idol is a singing competition featuring solo artists in grades six through 12. In its early years, only residents of Columbia could compete. Now, anyone in the surrounding areas is welcome to audition.
“Usually, we have a good 20 or more kids that have advanced to the semifinals,” Buckmon said. “We had a little less this year.”
After a series of auditions held in Sept. 13, semifinalists took to the stage at Slayton House on Oct. 5, knowing only 10 could advance to the finals.
“We didn’t use to have a semifinals,” Buckmon said. “We found we were at the lakefront a long time. Ten is a good number.”
For the semifinals, each contestant performed a few verses of a song. Snippets from pop songs by Ed Sheeran, Kelly Clarkson and Imagine Dragons were heard, as were musicals, including a song from “Phantom of the Opera.”
Jubilee Douglas, 12, had the whole house standing when she sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”
While she “wanted to unite” everyone with the performance, Jubilee chose the song for a different reason, she said.
“It has a lot vocal ranges, and I like to perform in many ranges,” she said.
Andrew Vesey, 16, had the unique advantage of being the only male in the competition.
“I stand out a little bit,” the rapper said, when he took to the stage. He performed a piece he wrote himself.
Before each entrant performed, they announced their name, grade and school they attended. The panel of three judges then asked each a question about a variety of subjects, such as, “Who would they want to perform with right now?” and “What color is your music?”
“We look for skills, how they present themselves, their voice, their performance,” Buckmon said. “Some of the kids just blow you away, they are so talented.”
Ariel O’Neal, a professional guitarist and University of Maryland grad who acted as a Columbia Idol judge for the first time, said she was surprised at the talent.
“It was a lot better than I imagined it would be. They’re very serious,” O’Neal said. “It was good.”
Buckmon has seen many nervous teens at the competition.
“I have seen people forget their words,” Buckmon said. “ Yes, they are nervous. We’re nervous for them.”
Morgan Donohoe, 16, admitted she had some trouble with her piece.
“I messed up the words a lot,” she said. “I have bad stage fright.”
Morgan’s younger brother, William, 14, accompanied her on the guitar.
Grace Taylor played the ukulele during her performance.
“He wanted to do it,” Morgan said, of William joining her. “I don’t know about the final. I’m still deciding [if he will perform with her].”
Youth from CA’s Youth and Teen Center @The Barn emceed the night, advertising the benefits of joining the Youth and Teen Center between performances and while waiting for the votes to be tallied.
“We do a lot for the youth of our community,” said Zhion Perkins, 14, as he queued up the next contestants backstage. “We do Teen Idol, Friday Nights, and pool parties.”
Prior to the finals, each of the 10 finalists are required to do a community service project together in order to perform. This year, the youth will attend a communications seminar at the Columbia Youth and Teen Center @ the Barn.
“People don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other,” said Safire Windley, a program coordinator who works with the Youth and Teen Center. “It will be an awesome experience.”
On the day of the final, each contestant will have three minutes to perform. Points will be taken off if they go over the limit. Musical selections were to be handed in prior to the event in order for Buckmon to put the show together. Besides the first-place winner, the second-place winner will receive $100 and a third-place winner will receive $50. The public will also cast votes for their favorite performer on the day of the show, with the winner of the public vote receiving a gift basket.
“On the 15th, fingers are crossed that it is outside at the lakefront,” Buckmon said. “We have never had to cancel any Idol competition.”
“I’ve been doing it for 10 years,” Windley said, of presenting Idol. “Anything that is going to empower our young people… I love it.”
Columbia Idol will take place on Oct. 15, at 3 p.m. at the Columbia Lakefront Stage, 10275 Wincopin Circle, Columbia. Admission is free.
The 10 finalists competing for the title of Columbia Idol are Kelly MacLean, Shealeigh Rondholz, Nicole Wildy, Trisha Tomcy, Katie McNab, Abby McDonough, Morgan Donahoe, Jubilee Douglas, Andrew Vesey and Grace Taylor.