At the start of the fair, 80 contestants aimed for the fame and career boost that would come with the title of Missouri State Fair Idol. After today, it’ll be down to the final 10.
But as the field shrinks, the event gains prestige. This is a state that has produced an American Idol (David Cook, of Blue Springs, in 2008), so Missourians take their competitive singing seriously.
“The caliber of singers has gotten better each year,” said host and coordinator Thom Fuller, who will oversee the last preliminary round today and the final round of 10 on Sunday. “We have a few repeats from previous years, and it’s run in conjunction with the Colgate Country Showdown — they send some of their competitors to us — so that gives us credibility.”
Missouri State Fair Idol, which began in 2006, shouldn’t be confused with a typical Backwoods Bar Idol. The singers taking the stage in the preliminary rounds had to win a radio competition or have an audition tape approved before they could compete. They can sing anything they want (most choose country), but they have to be good.
“We have a panel of judges who make comments,” said Fuller, noting the similarity to “American Idol.” “The difference is, rather than the audience picking the winner, the judges pick a winner with a scoring system.”
Greg Manis, the lead singer of St. Louis country band Hillbilly Authority, was one of the four guest judges during Wednesday’s preliminaries. His band won the 2008 Missouri Colgate Country Showdown, but he was happy to be on the other side of the judging table this time.
“One of the differences is I won’t be feeling any pressure today,” he said. “Unfortunately, there can only be one winner, but they’re all gonna have fun. I’m gonna look for vocal talent, charisma, stage presence, how they communicate with the audience — the whole package.”
State Fair Idol singers include teenagers and young adults, and males and females, from all corners of Missouri. Most of them take it quite seriously.
“Yeah, I want to win,” said Charlotte Jackson, of New Cambria, one of the repeat performers. “I like to sing, so the chance to be in front of people is one that I’ll always take.”
“I’m totally listening to my iPod — listening to the words, thinking about how I’m gonna move around on stage,” said Sydney Guthrie, 16, of La Monte.
Of course, not everyone is so serious — or so they claim.
“It’s just something to do,” said Travis Gibson, of Warrensburg, who took third place last year. “I sang a couple times in the basement before I got here.”
“A friend of mine said, ‘You need to go do this. We all want to come hear you sing,’ ” said Stacey Jones, of Columbia. “I figured, ‘Why not?’ ”
For whoever wins, it will be a key career step. This year’s Idol will get to open a grandstand show at next year’s fair.
The 2008 Idol, Carissa Dawn Biele, has since moved to Memphis, Tenn., where she is pursuing a music career.
“The ultimate that we’re looking for is someone who can potentially get on the grandstand stage and hold their own,” Fuller said.