All over Longmont, teens are setting their engines to idol as the city’s popular singing competition gets ready to fast track yet another group of kids to stardom. 

For the past seven years, Longmont Idol has helped kids build confidence, have fun, and hone their singing talents. This year, the program is back with bigger venues and even more opportunities for kids to go from singing in the shower to singing with power.

As might be suspected, the American Idol-inspired contest will pit young singers against each other for cash prizes and local notoriety. What isn’t so obvious, organizers say, is the incredible transformation that many contestants experience as they compete.

“It’s so mind blowing how kids come in and they’re so timid and looking down at the floor, and by the third performance, they’re in a sequined dress and involving the audience,” said Claudia Gutierrez, who runs the Children, Youth, and Families Division program along with Louie Lopez. “It’s kind of like magic.”

savannahThat magic starts with a little bit of practice at the Rehearsal Night performance. Contestants, who range from ages 11-21, have a chance to see what the competition is all about when they preform a cappella in front of a live audience. No one is eliminated and it’s a good opportunity for kids to size up their competition and see if they want to continue.

“Some kids sign up for fun,” said Gutierrez. “They don’t know what it’s all about. They think it’s a karaoke-type thing.”

Despite that, Gutierrez said, most kids go on to finish the competition—even those that don’t have their hearts set on being big stars. Along the way, they get a good dose of help from Mojo’s Music Academy in Longmont, which hosts a workshop to help contenders up their game.

“There is a very wide range [of talent], so I’m really trying to narrow the gap between kids that don’t have a lot of experience and those do,” said Jessica Rogalski, who owns Mojo’s and also emcees the event. “Most kids are doing this for fun, but they all want to make it to the end.”

The workshop gives them a chance to do that by helping them understand their vocal range, work on their stage presence, and choose the right song for their voice—an element that’s essential to doing well.

“Once I made the mistake of choosing a song that I absolutely loved, but I couldn’t necessarily sing as well as the artist,” said 15-year-old Savannah Rivera, a veteran performer who will compete for the fifth time this year. “My advice is to pick a song not only that you love, but also that you can sing really well.”

Once contestants get some training and know what they’re going to sing, they can rock out their performance even more at the Youth Original Recording Studio at the Longmont Youth Center. The studio has a recording booth where they can practice and they can even lay down some tracks to help prepare for the upcoming elimination rounds.

The rubber really meets the road during the four elimination performances, some of which will be held at high-profile venues like Rhythm on the River and the Boulder County Fair. There, singers are separated into two categories based on ability and will face a panel of judges who score them on elements such as pitch, audience command, personality, and stage presence.

Similar to the television version, the judges—who might range from music instructors to local band members to musicians in town on tour—will offer each contestant positive feedback on their performance and how they can improve it. At the end of each round, though, someone (and sometimes more than one) must go.

“It’s pretty disappointing to get eliminated,” said Rivera, who’s made it to the finals several times. “But you learn from that.”

Learning is what the program is what it’s all about, and not just when it comes to singing. It’s about learning confidence and knowing how far you can push yourself, said Rogalski, who has helped behind the scenes for five years.

Since the program first started, organizers have constantly refined it to help kids have more fun and make it as far as they can. Additions like the workshop and creating clear judging criteria have made sure that even the competitors that don’t walk away with prize money still take home something valuable.

“You want them to learn and to grow from it,” Rogalski said. “Building that confidence is beneficial. If they can achieve this, then maybe they can get those As in class, or land that summer job.”

If it all sounds a bit daunting, we’ll it can be. But it’s also rewarding and not at all the cutthroat competition that some might think it would be. In fact, Rivera said, it’s a great way to make some new pals.

“It’s so great just meeting all these people that are in the same place as me, trying to grow as singers,” she said. “You make great friends. Sure, you’re competing against each other but you’re also cheering each other on.”

For those that finish, there are big prizes—$1,000, $500, or $250 for first through third place. But there’s also opportunities to keep performing at other events, and many winners have gone on to pursue studies in music and have kept their star on the rise.

Even for the lesser stars—and they’re all stars—there’s a lot to be gained. After four years of performing, Rivera said she’d still recommend the competition to anyone who with a song in their hearts—whether they’re stellar singers or not.

By Jolie Breeden, Longmont Magazine

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