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UNIONTOWN — When Francis Scott Key junior Michael Darr's best friend first handed him a guitar, he had no idea that within two short years, he'd be known around school as a musician. Saturday, Darr will embrace his love of the guitar by performing in the finals of Maryland Theatre's Teen Idol 2015.

The contest, modeled loosely after the television hit "American Idol," brings together 20 teen musicians to compete for a grand prize of $1,000 and a second prize of $500. A singer and guitarist, Darr will perform "New Shoes" by Paolo Nutini and "Banana Pancake" by Jack Johnson during the show. He reached the final 20 by beating out 30 other musicians who performed at the Teen Idol auditions in February.

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Darr said he first picked up the guitar two years ago, inspired by his friend, Cody Sawyers.

"I was hanging out with my best friend one day, and he had a guitar and asked if I wanted to play. He told me to take it and then he put my fingers into a C chord, and it was really awkward," Darr said. "As soon as I got home, though, I told my mom I wanted to take guitar lessons."

Liz DuRant, Darr's mom, said she was thrilled to see her son take up a musical hobby.

"I was so excited because my whole family are athletic people, but he never had that killer instinct in him. We put him in tee ball and he'd look around. He never had that 'I've got to beat you' drive, so it was hard to find interests," DuRant said. "When he came home saying he wanted to play guitar, we were like 'heck yeah.' "

Though Darr said his interest in music runs through a number of genres, he said he is most interested in performing alternative rock, like Neon Trees, the Fray and Maroon 5. He said it usually requires only one or two listens for him to figure out the melody to perform it. DuRant said since Michael got his guitar, she's never had to nag him to play, and he practices every chance he gets.

Throughout the week, Darr brings his guitar to school to duck out on lunch and practice in one of FSK's open rooms.

He said he's been practicing during the school day for as long as he's been able to get away with it.

"My freshman year, I had a final project to do, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't find a version of 'Iron Man' by Black Sabbath to bring in. So I grabbed my electric guitar to record it for the project," Darr said. He ended up recording the song in an empty room in the school.

"Nobody really yelled at me for it, so when I got an acoustic guitar, I figured no one would yell at me for this, so I started carrying it around everywhere," Darr said. "I used to get a lot of weird looks, but now I'm just the guitar guy."

Though the guitar is a relatively new interest for Darr, he said he's been singing since he could speak. DuRant said her son used to sing everywhere he could, from the shower to the back seat of the car.

Since picking up the guitar, Darr said his singing skills have improved, as playing his own accompaniment helps keep him on key. Last December, Darr and his friend Cody played at their first open mic night at Birdie's Cafe in Westminster.

"Performing in front of people is one of the best feelings ever," Darr said. "It's nerve-racking at first, but once you get there and see the other people, it's amazing."

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

If you go

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What: Maryland Theatre's Teen Idol 2015

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 21

Where: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown

Cost: $10

For more information: Visit mdtheatre.org or call 301-790-2000.

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