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Theatre Review: Santa Monica Idol

Twenty-six budding vocalists tested their skills in the afternoon sun for the first ever Santa Monica Idol competition.

The contest was conceived as part of St. Monica’s revamped Fall Festival. Known for over 20 years as Octoberfair, the annual event, which began as an ice cream social, was re-imagined to create something “new and unique” for the community, said Sam Schoemann, a parishioner of St. Monica and a volunteer staff member for the event.

“Everybody loved it,” he stated. “It made perfect sense.”

Held on September 30, Santa Monica Idol received over 100 one-minute entries submitted by tape or MP3, including, said Schoemann, one from a 75-year-old former “Broadway hoofer.” The panel then narrowed down the pool to 30 contestants who auditioned in person on September 22. The Sunday afternoon finals consisted of 26 individuals who were split in half between the junior and adult categories. Contestants included students at St. Monica’s elementary and high schools, along with young people from various other Southern California communities.

Based on American Idol, St. Monica’s competition was structured similarly to the popular television show. Contestants had three minutes to perform a song of their choice to a karaoke backdrop. Each performance was followed by the opportunity for comment from one of three judges. For the semifinals, the judges included Dan Belzer, Leanna Brand, and Rick Krizman, three music industry professionals with no connection to St. Monica parish.

Unlike American Idol, the judges were unfailingly kind in their critiques. However, the competition did fall into some of the traps identifiable with the reality program. Given that this was a competition for amateurs, many of the performers appeared reasonably unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the stage. In that respect, it was fairly common for singers to move awkwardly with the microphones, causing the vocals to fade before hitting the audience at full blast. Similarly, there were numerous cases where contestants with obvious talent picked songs that were unsuitable for their voices (Frankie Valli songs almost always require a falsetto, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” though lyrically appropriate for a young girl, is too advanced a piece for green singers).

Despite such awkward moments, each number seemed to resonate with the crowd, eliciting large rounds of applause. After a brief interlude, the judges returned with decisions in hand. The finalists in the junior round were Dorian Gomez, Annie Reznik, and Garianna Geiselman. In the adult division, Karla Carrillo, Harrison Crenshaw, and Andrew Karl made the cut.

After four hours and live sets from Pete Jacobs Swingtet, electric violinist Josh Vietti, and La Salsa Caliente, the finalists returned to revisit their songs in a final round hosted by Jason Kennedy of E! Networks. Amongst the junior set, Reznik stood out as the fan favorite. Although only 10 years old, the pint-sized singer had both the voice and the confidence to take on Tina Turner with “River Deep, Mountain High.” Amongst the adult contingent, fans seemed torn between Carrillo and Crenshaw, both of whom are college students who graduated from St. Monica High School. Carrillo, who dressed in a traje de charro for her rendition of the mariachi number “Aires del Mayab,” was the most inventive performer, perhaps the only one in the lineup who chose to veer outside of the standard talent show numbers. She also presented herself as a seasoned entertainer, one who danced and sang without hesitation and worked the crowd with a natural ease. Crenshaw also appeared to be at home on the stage. His large, soulful voice worked well with Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” Additionally, his dance moves were impeccable.

Barry Nugent, Starr Parodi, and Bobby Summerfield, the judges for the finals, spent an hour deliberating over the winners as St. Monica’s Bandstand performed a set of hits from the 1950s and ’60s. Despite her popularity with the crowd, Reznik placed second, with Gomez taking the top spot and accompanying $250 prize. Much like the audience, the judges could not decide between Carrillo and Harrison in the adult category. The two tied and each was awarded $500. Runners-up received prizes courtesy of West LA Music and Santa Monica Music Center.

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