The Missouri State Fair is still a month away, but this year’s State Fair Idol has probably already begun his or her journey to the title. Three qualifying rounds have taken place at Dickie-Doo Bar-B-Que, and the final chance to qualify locally will be at 7 p.m. Friday on the party deck of the Sedalia bar and restaurant.
These rounds mirror the early episodes of an “American Idol” season.
“But instead of saying ‘You’re going to Hollywood,’ we say ‘You’re going to the state fair,’ ” said Bruce Enrietto, of 105.7 KIX FM, which sponsors the qualifying at Dickie-Doo. “If they sing here and they’re worth another look, we’ll send them to the Bud Tent (at the state fair).”
KIX FM sends about 10 to 15 singers to the state fair every year; in the five years of State Fair Idol, two of those ended up winning the whole thing. Radio stations from the Lake of the Ozarks, Marshall and Kansas City are also holding qualifying rounds to fill out the fair’s roster of 50 to 60 singers. If a singer fails to qualify one week, they can try again the next week; they should sign up at least a half-hour before the event.
Singers can also qualify by sending an audition DVD to the fair that will be reviewed by the organizers (the deadline is July 28), but Thom Fuller — who organizes and emcees the competition once it gets to the state fair — encourages singers to earn spots through the qualifying competitions if they live in the area.
“Because they’re out in public, more people can see what’s going on,” he said.
Erica Crabtree, 21, of Florence, said the qualifying phase is a breeze compared to the state fair rounds. She has made it through KIX FM’s qualifying the last three years only to be eliminated in the preliminary round at the Bud Tent.
Her goal on Friday was “just to have fun and get a little crazy,” while singing Gretchen Wilson’s “All Jacked Up.”
Once at the state fair, singers will get more stage time than in past years. Under the old format, winners of each of 10 preliminary rounds advanced directly to the final round. This year, there will be only six preliminary rounds. Four days of semifinal competition will be added, so singers will need to impress the judges three times rather than twice.
In this way, State Fair Idol will fall more in line with “American Idol,” which rewards consistency and versatility. Finalists will end up performing six songs — one in the preliminary round, two in the semifinal round and three in the final round — although they are allowed to carry over their songs from round to round.
“I like that because I think some of the people will grow a fan base and it will generate more excitement,” Fuller said. “The finals have always turned out great, but we’re trying to mix it up a bit and get performers out in front of people more, so they can build a loyalty base.”
“I like it a lot better,” Crabtree said. “It allows you to show more vocal talent and interaction with the crowd. Anybody can be good at one song, but it takes a lot to do different styles and different paces.”
Fuller hopes the audience will play more of a role in determining the winner than ever before. The judges will be instructed to factor in the crowd’s enthusiasm.
“Twenty-five percent of the score is audience response,” he said. “If the audience likes somebody who might not technically be the best singer, but has a personality that goes along with their singing, that’s really important. It’s just like the phone calls that keep people on ‘American Idol.’ ”
“You can give a little bit more to your audience now,” Crabtree said. “Some people come multiple times to watch. You could do the same song, but I think it’s better to show your range.”
Fuller has already lined up judges for this year’s event. In addition to Democrat columnist Travis McMullen and the University of Central Missouri’s MaryLee Guthrie, the panel will include professional cruise-ship singer Kami Rodgers, music teacher Britt Faaborg and some of the performers who will be bookending State Fair Idol on the Budweiser Stage.
From Aug. 11-20, the touring musicians will perform at 2 and 6 p.m., with State Fair Idol in the 4 p.m. slot. The final round will be at 2 p.m. Aug. 21.
For more information on Friday’s last qualifying round at Dickie-Doo, call KIX FM at 826-1050.