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Friday, 20 June 2014 10:49

Country Idolatry!

Who Am I To Judge?

SARATOGA SPRINGS— What started out as a simple request—to interview the winner of this year’s WGNA Country Idol competition at Vapor Nite Club (the finals took place on Thursday, June 12) – took a somewhat different and strange bend in the road. I was asked to take one of the best seats in the house and be a member of the judge’s panel.  

 

Well, fit me for a powdered wig and robe – ‘cause here comes da’ judge! Calling me ‘Your Honor’ is something I could certainly get used to…

 

First, some atmospherics: The doors opened at 7 p.m. that night. By 7:02 the placed was packed! Attendees loosened up with about 1/2 hour of line dancing and boot scootin’ before the competition got underway at 7:30. What was noticeable is how few in the crowd I recognized (maybe 3 friends). Where did these people come from?

 

Handling the dual role of DJ and MC of the festivities was WGNA’s Kevin Richards, who juggled a million details with good-natured verve and élan. Joining me at the judge’s table were the lovely Sabrina Gogan, who was the 2012 ‘Idol’ winner; the equally lovely Casey Danton from ‘GNA and PopCrush radio; and the human energy pill that is Dave Tokarowski, lead singer for Body & Soul, an eight-piece regional horn band. 

 

The format was for 28 contestants – chosen from prelim rounds earlier this year – to sing one song. They would be scored a maximum of 50 points: 25 for vocals, 10 for appearance and 15 for “stage presence.” In addition to scoring, the judge’s challenge was to be pithy, supportive and helpful. The field would be cut down to six— 1 song apiece for all the ($5,000) marbles.

 

“When Kevin Richards got a hold of me to ask if I wanted to be a judge for the finals this year I was beyond excited and incredibly honored that they would trust my opinion.” 

Sabrina noted. “I’ve spent a lot of time being on that stage trying to win over judges so it was an entirely different experience being on the other side.”

 

“This was tough. All the finalists were really talented.” Dave said. “We had a tough time cutting down the field – in fact, we could have picked six completely different finalists and it would have fit.”

 

Sabrina concurred. During the final round, she said in aside to me “this is tough! I’m sure glad I’m not competing in this field!”

 

High praise coming from professionals who are living the dream of making a living doing just what many of these contestants aspire to: making their music and performing.  

 

Sabrina acknowledges the boost this contest gave her. “I’m currently fronting a four piece cover band based out of Springfield, MA called Madison Avenue. I also do a lot to songwriting on my own. Country Idol has given my voice a lot of exposure throughout my hometown and nearby areas. I'm so thankful for the experience, the relationships I've made and the opportunities I've received because of this awesome competition!” 

 

As for Dave, he and Body & Soul generally play private parties and special events – but I’ll tout you to one upcoming public appearance so you can enjoy his energy: On Friday, June 27 at 7 p.m. Body & Soul will be playing at Hattie’s (45 Phila Street) as part of a special Jazz Festival Weekend… be there – the Judge has spoken! (I could get used to this….) 

 

Last year’s winner, Kayla Sarro, is a Saratoga Springs native and a “Blue Streak through and through.” Winning the 2013 County Idol competition spurred her on to a Platinum Voice competition at Vapor (which she won). Kayla just auditioned for the NBC show The Voice in Washington D.C. earlier this month and has her ticket punched for NYC for the big one – American Idol in late July. “Country Idol gave me a boost and the drive to strive for more,” she said. 

 

In the meantime, in classic country folklore fashion, she works hard at three jobs counting music. Currently, she is looking to form a backing band that plays country and classic rock– all positions are open – Kayla has a Facebook fan page, so the line forms to the right guys and gals. In the meantime, she keeps her pipes in perfect pitch at various Karaoke venues – her faves are the Saratoga City Tavern on Thursday and The Rusty Nail on Wednesday/Saturday. 

 

Onto the winners—yes, plural.  For the first time in the Country Idol competition, the final round was so contentious that two contestants got a perfect score – 200 out of 200; they split the $5,000 grand prize. 

 

What is interesting is how they took completely different paths to victory:

 

Kara Aird has the country lineage (Gloversville born, Speculator raised), the look; the “in yo’ face” attitude – the whole ‘you go girl!’—inducing persona and of course, the vocal chops to back it up. 

 

She credits her friend Traci for taking her to a prelim round and pushing her on stage “I had never even heard about this prior to walking into Vapor.” Kara has decided that Traci gets half her winnings for backing the right horse, so to speak. 

 

But Kara is not looking to parlay this into anything more than it is: “This is fun, and I want it to stay that way… I have a full-time career in another field that is very satisfying.” She said. 

 

So for now, if you want to catch her act, the best bet is to venture up to Logan’s Bar & Grill in Speculator on a night that they do “Gary-oke” – Gary being the MC. But, having seen her act, it says here that it’s worth the trip to see a talent like Kara in her native habitat. 

 

In contrast, co-winner Renee Lussier is already a pro. She has been the lead singer of the regional band Skeeter Creek for four years now. “I do other things, but this is my full-time gig.” She said. “I wouldn’t do anything else—you get paid for having fun!”

 

When asked about the difference between the band-fronting vs. the “solo idol” vibe, she said “I like both. Normally, you have challenges with different groups, personalities, but Skeeter Creek is a like family, so that makes all the difference.”

 

This is her first Country Idol competition “I couldn’t even get into Vapor last year!” She said. Oh, by the way, she’s 22 years old. “My fiancé, David, signed me up for this.”

 

David and Renee are to be married on September 12, and no, Skeeter Creek will not be playing. “We’ll be partying.” She said. Yet it would come as no surprise if their DJ didn’t summon up a certain lady in a white dress to belt out one or two tunes – for the photo op, of course. 

 

This was an eye-opener on several levels: the crowd, the talent, the degree of difficulty in judging, but also the laughter and fun. I feel like I made some new friends for life on the judge’s panel. They asked me to come back next year, and you can bet I am there! 

 

But you don’t have to wait until then. The talent of the top six were so uniformly excellent that Kevin Richards asked them all back to perform at another WGNA-sponsored event at Vapor this summer. 

 

Until then—court is adjourned. All rise…

 

 

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