Heading into the 2012 Missouri State Fair Idol finals on Sunday, there was an excellent chance that the girls would end the guys’ two-year reign: All seven finalists at the Budweiser Stage were women.
“Maybe the girls scared them off,” suggested professional singer and Idol judge Kami Rodgers after the event.
It’s a valid theory, because all seven proved they belonged, leading to a tough decision from the six-judge panel that ultimately crowned competition veteran Ashton Faith Thompson, 20, of Cole Camp, as the seventh Missouri State Fair Idol.
Although her dress, makeup and jewelry distinguished her from last year’s winner, flannel-shirt-sporting Ryan Manuel, of Sedalia, Thompson — who goes by Ashton Faith on stage — is as blue-collar as they come.
“You need to have that technique,” Rodgers said. “You need to do the work to develop that voice and then add the performance and fun stuff on top of that. Underneath what she makes look so easy is a lot of hard work.”
Thompson was perhaps the most familiar face among the finalists. This was her fourth year in the competition and third year in the finals. She also won the Cole Camp Fair Idol last year.
“I’ve been singing since I was 6,” she told the Democrat after collecting her trophy. “I’m a music major right now and I sing any chance I get — at churches, fundraisers, nursing homes. I’m open to anything.”
The Idol officials continued with their unfortunate policy of not making the final standings public, but it was likely a tight race.
“To be honest, my heart dropped,” Thompson said of hearing the announcement that she won. “It was a really close call, because there were so many talented women out there and they all did so good.”
Crowd interaction and song choices were likely the key to her victory. Thompson, a 2010 Cole Camp High School graduate, was the only performer to venture off stage and interact with the crowd, standing on a chair and later pulling a woman out of the audience for a brief dance.
“When she went into the audience and drew everyone in, it kind of pushed her over the edge,” Rodgers said. “And she made really good choices; she knows her voice and knows her audience.”
Thompson sang Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” “I Know Where I’ve Been” from “Hairspray,” and the “Shrek” version of Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero.” These selections set her apart from the country-crooning pack.
“I sang more of my comfort music,” said Thompson, who is currently attending State Fair Community College and plans to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “I like to sing country, but that’s not where my heart is. I like to sing more classic rock, so when I made the decision to do that, that really set me free. (The three songs) make me feel really good.”
Despite being a veteran of the Idol stage, Thompson said: “Every time I perform, I get nerves. If you don’t get those feelings, it’s not there for you.”
She’ll no doubt have a case of nerves next year when she gets to open the first grandstand concert. In the meantime, as part of the prize package that will also include a trophy, she’ll get to record a song and have it played on the radio.
The rest of Sunday’s lineup included three other veterans — Kamber Cain, 21, of Eldorado Springs; Maleah Perkins, 32, of Green Ridge; and Felisha Bertrand, 20, of Princeton. All were in their third or fourth year of competing.
Cain was the only performer to sing an original song, the country tune “Ain’t Nothin’ Like a Night Like This.” In the remarks before the judges’ decision, Perkins said she felt old among this group, but Bertrand noted that Perkins didn’t look her age.
Martina McBride was the most popular artist in the finals, as Cain and Bertrand both sang “Anyway” and first-time Idol competitor Sydney Lambert, 15, of Kirksville, belted out “Broken Wing.” Lambert had experience at the Northeast Missouri Fair Idol, and it showed.
Although country went over well with the crowd, a notably louder cheer went up for the unusual choices, such as Bertrand’s performance of Lady Gaga’s “You and I” and Lambert’s rocking turn with the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight,” her parents’ favorite song. Lambert also got a roar after Etta James’ “At Last,” her grandmother’s favorite song.
Judging by crowd reaction, Bertrand and Lambert are the best bets to be a future Idol if they follow Thompson’s example and stick with it.
Other first-time competitors on Sunday were Hilary Fink, 22, of Parkville; and Isabella Beard, 15, of Centralia. They both sang three country songs.