Originally Published: August 30, 2010 9:07 p.m.
PRESCOTT - The song choices were sometimes unexpected - a little girl's throaty rendition of a jazz standard, an adult man's falsetto version of an early Michael Jackson song.
But if anything, the incongruity appeared to add to the crowd's appreciation of the performances during this past week's installment of Prescott Karaoke Idol.
For a brief moment, for instance, Phoenix singer Edwin Barnes transported the crowd back to the early '70s, when Jackson was still belting out songs with the Jackson 5.
"You and I must make a pact," Barnes sang in a pitch reminiscent of Jackson's childish voice. "We must bring salvation back."
The crowd appeared to love it. Barnes' version of the sweet soul song "I'll be There" earned a huge ovation during the Thursday night performance.
Afterward, Barnes reciprocated the audience's enthusiasm. "There's something about being with this crowd," he said as he left the stage at the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza Thursday night. "It's just awesome being here. The people are enjoying themselves so much."
Barnes was just one of about 20 people who tried their hand at everything from the classic strains of Chuck Berry, Etta James, and Van Morrison to the newer sounds of Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Adam Lambert.
The Prescott Karaoke Idol competition has been going on all summer, and this past week's performance was the last one before the finale event, which will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Elks Opera House.
For Barnes, the singing comes easy. "I just pretend I'm listening to the records," he said of his spot-on imitation of Jackson.
In fact, Barnes enjoys the experience so much that he said he finds a karaoke venue a couple times a week - often in the Prescott and Chino Valley area.
Little Kela Hedtke probably can relate. Even though - at just 9 years old - she is too young to be an official contestant in the competition, she shows up regularly to warm up the audience before the event begins. This past week, she was a crowd favorite with a touching version of Martina McBride's "Broken Wing."
Local DJ Junior Gonzales, who serves as master of ceremonies for the karaoke event, has become a fan of the Prescott youth. "Kela's amazing," he said. While she was too young to meet the 10-year-old age requirement this year, Gonzales predicts she will be tough competition in next year's Idol competition.
Prescott Special Events Coordinator Becky Garvin, who organizes Prescott Karaoke Idol, says the event has offered a venue for more than 200 aspiring singers throughout the summer.
With 11 preliminary events now behind them, organizers will move onto the finale, which will determine the Idol winner. The first- and second-place winners from each of the 11 preliminary nights will advance to the finals.
Garvin and Gonzales both emphasize the broad appeal of the competition under the towering trees of the Courthouse Plaza.
"People are coming from the Verde Valley, Cave Creek, Phoenix," Garvin said.
Gonzales, who makes a point to carry on a brief conversation with each contestant before the music starts, said a number of out-of-town visitors have also taken the Prescott stage.
"We've had people from Oregon, Washington, and California," Gonzales said. "We even had a lady from the Philippines."
Because of the city's collaboration with the Kolt Canyon Wolf radio stations, the Idol event has received widespread publicity - a factor that Gonzales, who works as a DJ for the Wolf station, credits with bringing in out-of-town interest.
For the first 11 performances, audience members have voted for their favorites, but for the finale, Garvin said judges would be on hand to make the decision.
And there is plenty at stake for the finalists. Garvin said the Idol winner will get about $1,500 worth of gift certificates and merchandise, while the second-place winner will get a value of about $800, and the third-place winner will get a prize worth about $350.
The tickets to the finale at the Elks are free, but Garvin reported that they were going quickly. Those interested in any remaining tickets may stop by the Elks Opera House at 117 E. Gurley St. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
After giving 10 tickets to each finale contestant, the city is distributing the remainder on a first-come-first-served basis and is asking for a donation at the door on the night of the finale.
For those who do not get tickets, the city will have a screen set up on the Courthouse Plaza, where people can watch the performance live.
More information is available by calling the special events office at 777-1349.
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