Missouri has a new State Fair Idol, and — to borrow a quote from Oklahoma State University football coach Mike Gundy — he’s a man; he’s 40.
Nathan Jones, of St. Joseph, proved that talented singers come in all ages by winning the 2010 Missouri State Fair Idol title on Sunday at the Budweiser Stage. Among the 11 finalists, he was the second-oldest.
Bo Weston, 52, of Mexico, told the crowd he felt like he “stuck out like a sore thumb,” and Jones had similar thoughts.
“You hope your talent and interaction with the crowd can get you over that hump,” said Jones, who looks too burly to belt out Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Sherry.”
But he hit those high notes nonetheless, and it was enough to beat out all the teens and 20-somethings that fit the prototypical Idol mold.
“A younger person like the young gal who just turned 18, she’s young and beautiful and she could sing, too. That’s dangerous for a competition. I’m not gonna lie, I looked at her and thought ‘OK, I’m 40; she’s my daughter’s age.’ So yeah, that ran through my head.”
Jones could’ve been referring to either of two 18-year-olds, Felisha Bertrand, of Princeton, or Ashton Faith, of Cole Camp. They were the two youngest competitors.
However, Jones, a State Fair Idol rookie, faced his toughest competition from fan-favorite Travis Gibson, 26, of Warrensburg, who was in his third year of competing.
While Gibson performed a pair of country tunes with confidence and charisma to close out the show, Jones’ vocal range and audience interaction gave him the slight edge.
“In the preliminary round, when he first walked up there, I never would’ve imagined (“Sherry”) would’ve come out of him,” said judge Chase McRoy, a Sedalia bass player who had Jones and Gibson tied on his scorecard. “It was a shocker to see that.”
Jones followed “Sherry” with Dion’s “The Wanderer,” where he wandered off stage and engaged the crowd. He was the only contestant to depart the comfort of the stage. Gibson, who chose not to use pre-recorded instrumental tracks, was stuck behind his guitar, so that might’ve cost him in the category of stage presence.
Jones’ comfort with 1960s pop songs helped, too.
“When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my aunt had an old Wurlitzer jukebox and my uncle rigged it so that when you pulled a string it would play these old tunes,” said Jones, who is a project manager for a construction firm when he’s not singing in contests or running his karaoke/DJ business. “So I grew up listening to all these Sun 45 records. Not only did I enjoy that music, but everybody else did, too. It was fun music. You don’t have to worry about offending somebody. It’s just good stuff.”
Jones’ choices stood out because, as with the previous four years of State Fair Idol, country dominated the song selections. Dane Sackrider, 23, of Kansas City, was the only singer to perform an original song — “As Soon as I Win the Lottery” — but even it was a country tune.
“We hear a lot of country music during the Idol competition, so it was refreshing to hear a different genre of music and see the crowd’s participation,” said judge MaryLee Guthrie, of the Boys & Girls Clubs. “Nathan was resoundingly the winner, but it was a close contest. Nathan seemed to be a crowd favorite. Travis had quite a few fans as well, but when all was said and done, we got it right.
“What it comes down to in this final round is song selection. Nobody else was doing that kind of music. But I also thought he had the vocal ability.”
Weston started off with an old pop tune, The Temptations’ “My Girl,” but even he went country with his second choice, pulling out Darius Rucker’s “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.” He said he had never sung a country song before.
You wouldn’t know it, though. Like the other 10 contestants, he had the charisma and singing chops that proved he belonged in the finals.
It seemed like a guy was destined to win this year. Jones, who won the right to open the grandstand show on the first night of next year’s fair, is the second male to win the crown.
But the gals were no slouches, certainly. Organizer Thom Fuller liked Michelle LaMonda, 36, of Cairo; Amber Phillips, 19, had local support as the only Sedalian in the finals; Guthrie and McRoy liked Tina McRey, 26, of Belton; Jessica Jones, 32, of Marshall, is always in the mix at this event; and charismatic cutie Rachel Simmons, 20, of Warrensburg, won over pretty much everybody with Patsy Cline’s “When I Get Thru with You.”
There was enough talent of both genders that talk about dissolving the competition seems a bit silly in retrospect. Such discussions took place during the meetings for this year’s fair, and the chatter might surface again before next August. But the organizers would be wise to adhere to the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The fact that the Idol final round is the biggest daytime Bud tent draw, and that even the preliminaries bring in more people than the afternoon bands, proves that Idol ain’t broke.
Tweaks might be in order, though. Guthrie suggested that the format should be more like “American Idol,” so competitors have to perform four or five songs in order to win, as opposed to two or three.
That’s not to say that the current format doesn’t produce worthy finalists, though.
“This is the most talented group we’ve had,” Fuller said after the competition. “As far as numbers go, our numbers were down (to 63 competitors, compared to 80 last year). We’re getting to the point where we might want to change things up a little bit. But also, we’re riding such a nice wave that we don’t want to mess with success.”