With chilly weather finally sweeping into Sedalia, thoughts of hot days at the state fair are a long way off for some. But not for the competitors in Doo Idol, a new singing competition that will send its champion to August’s Missouri State Fair Idol contest.
Dickie Doo Bar-B-Que employee Monika Monks noticed that the club did good business hosting State Fair Idol preliminaries last summer for a local radio station. And indeed, that event will return in June on the party porch. But she saw an opportunity to liven up the winter months as well, and Doo Idol was born.
“We figured why not do our own thing?” Monks said. “We follow the same rules as State Fair Idol. You have to be 15 years old, but really, there aren’t many rules. Obviously, the judges look for talent, and confidence is a good one too. We host a lot of live music, and you can have an excellent band, but if you don’t have stage presence, no one goes for it.”
Singers also must be amateurs; anyone who hasn’t released an album professionally can enter. That still leaves some hefty competition; for example, Nate Tawbush, one of last year’s State Fair Idol finalists and a singer with Rebel Town and the CSL Jr. Blues Band, will vie for the title again this year (on Saturday, he helped out with hosting duties at Doo Idol).
Because Dickie Doo books country and blues bands, the competition might swing more toward those genres, just like the club’s Thursday jam nights do. However, all kinds of music are welcome, and singers can perform with a backing CD or their own instrument or a cappella.
“I hope to get people playing guitars or their own instruments,” Monks said before Saturday’s competition. “We have someone tonight who is going to do a cappella. She was afraid to do that, but that will show if she has a voice or not.”
Although grassroots Idol competitions have been going on nationwide ever since “American Idol” became a hit 10 years ago, every year sees fresh faces competing. Saturday’s first contestant, a cappella singer Amber Harshner, of La Monte, had tried out for “American Idol” in 2008 at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, but this was her first time in a vocal competition since then.
The 32-year-old Sedalia Middle School teacher sang an original song titled “OK.”
“I always sing in class and my students are always telling me I should try out again,” Harshner said. “And I’m over the age limit for ‘American Idol,’ so I thought I’d try this.”
“OK” was the first song she ever wrote, so it was an appropriate choice to launch her Doo Idol and State Fair Idol quest. Also, the a cappella selection was born of necessity: She had thought Doo Idol was a karaoke competition and therefore did not bring her own CD of backing music.
“When you hear the song, you can tell I’ve been through a breakup, so that was the inspiration,” said Harshner, who holds a college degree in music. “I just started singing this chorus in my head. I became a mom and became busy raising my kids, but I hope to get back into singing. I’m sure there are a lot of great singers out there, but I’m ready to get back to doing what I love.”
Harshner’s first competition on Saturday came from Stephanie Hall, 19, a stay-at-home mom from La Monte. (“Competition” might be too strong of a word: The two women shared the stage with Tawbush later in the night for an impromptu rendition of Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.”)
Hall had competed in last year’s State Fair Idol, having advanced from the radio preliminaries at Dickie Doo. She also sings regularly at the Doo’s Friday karaoke nights.
“I come out and karaoke a lot,” said Hall, who added that she is going to stick with the Sedalia scene for now rather than trying out for “American Idol.” “I like to sing. I just started competing last year, and yeah, I get more confident every time. Sometimes if there are more people here, it’s more nerve-racking, but I’m getting there. … If people show up who have been karaoke-ing every Friday, it’ll be a good competition.”
On Saturday, Hall chose a popular number among Idol competitors: Martina McBride’s 2001 hit “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues.”
“I’ve always been a fan of Martina McBride,” she said. “I went to a concert when I was 13 and was hooked immediately. (The song) shows all the levels of your voice.”
Although that particular tune might not win her many originality points from certain judges if she advances to State Fair Idol, it probably scored just fine in the informal, relaxed setting of the Doo Idol preliminaries, where a healthy percentage of folks in the audience are friends and family members.
The next Doo Idol preliminary round will be at 8 p.m. Jan. 28, then there will be two more in February and two in March (check out dickiedoobbq.com for the announcement of those dates). Singers should show up about 30 minutes early to sign up. The final round, to be staged in March or April, will feature 12 singers selected from the preliminaries. The grand prize is not only a spot in Missouri State Fair Idol, but also $300 and a Bud Lite electric guitar.