This year’s Ramsey DARE Idol gave the prime-time TV show after which it’s modeled a run for the money, as the 10 and 11-year-old finalists who stepped into the spotlight on Saturday, May 19, wowed the crowd with their passion.
In the end, the a cappella performance by 10-year-old Dater School fifth-grader Jeff Castellano took the top spot.
That’s how Jeff felt onstage at the Don Bosco Preparatory School Auditorium immediately following the tallying of the results.
“I want to thank my family because they are the ones who supported me,” he added.
When asked why he decided to perform without the backing track, Jeff said he couldn’t locate the music for “Ho Hey” by the local band The Lumineers to sing with. So tapping a tambourine in one hand, he went for it anyway and quickly had the crowd clapping along.
Matthew Fowler, who won last year’s event and would later share a different stage with country band Rascal Flatts, rushed onstage to congratulate this winner. Matt was the first male to win the event since it began in 2005 and his successor cemented the boys’ hold on the competition.
Another 10 fifth-graders also took to the stage at Don Bosco before a sold-out crowd of just under 1,000. Of the 240 students eligible to participate, 168 tried out — setting a record for the annual event.
“This is the biggest year, percentage-wise,” said Police Officer Tim Shoemaker. “This is my seventh DARE Idol and I’ve never been as enthused.”
That feeling was shared by the audience. Fellow students cheered wildly for their classmates while family members rose from their seats to give standing ovations. All the while, text messages flowed from members of the crowd to a screen onstage commending the performers.
“People believe in these kids and you’re about to find out why,” Shoemaker told the audience before the 10 acts took to the stage.
For the most part, the competitors said they had been singing for nearly all their lives, except for Sean Connolly. He said he started practicing only two weeks ago. Judges Maggie Nelson, Alex Stecyna and Kelly O’Keefe, all with music and performance backgrounds, said Sean did a great job regardless.
Chloe Balcom, one of the earlier performers, let loose a roaring rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Josie Ascione’s rendition of “Mean” by Taylor Swift kicked off with the twang of guitar strings, and along with finalists Deirdre Corrigan, Francesca Guthrie, Katherine Thumm and Kristina Conzo, delivered an energetic performance that impressed both judges and audience members alike. The girls performed songs by Miley Cyrus, Carrie Underwood and Selena Gomez, as well as a track from the film “The Little Mermaid,” to much fanfare.This year’s DARE Idol alternate, Isabella Irving, entertained the audience with winners from 2007 through 2011 during the singer showcase session after all 10 contestants had performed.
Danny Cantor, who said he’d been practicing for DARE Idol “probably about every day in the shower,” used a lull in his song to toss his hat into the crowd. Will Simpson was the final contestant of the night and his stage presence and dance moves put the competition on notice.
“I think it’s safe to say a lot of fifth-grade girls were swooning out there in the audience,” O’Keefe saidWhen it came time to vote for the winner, audience members cast ballots that were then furiously counted and double-checked by seven of the more than 70 volunteers who had been working for days on end to put this event together.
Local high school junior Evan Thomas, who has been a DARE Idol volunteer for years, said of the event’s popularity, “All the kids coming and their brothers and sisters doing it makes all the kids want to do it even more.”Though not every student is comfortable with the attention that comes with the event, Shoemaker said it’s the pressure that makes auditioning and performing so important.
“It demonstrates they’re not afraid to fail,” Shoemaker said of the benefits of the event.
“We want to pressure the kids,” he added, so they remember how to act when confronted with other high-pressure situations, such as those involving drinking and drug use.