SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Strutting your stuff and teasing the crowd with your talent — even when there’s little to none — still invites a strong audience to see brave local souls parade through Wakefield Idol every year.
Contemporary Theater Company will open its seventh season tonight for this Thursday night winter entertainment series. It brings out the meek and the brave among more than 50 contestants seeking the revered number-one spot — or at least a slight nod or small smile of approval — for showcasing themselves and their talent.
“It’s really about people who have extraordinary talent, even just extraordinary passion, but who have other jobs. This is the chance for them to show their musical talent on the stage for their neighbors,” said Chris Simpson, CTC artistic director.
This 12-week show has the enduring attraction of “reality TV” in live theater that draws capacity crowds. It also captures contestants’ embrace of praise, criticism and vulnerability in their quest for recognition when seeking Wakefield’s own gold ring in this imitation of television’s “American Idol” series.
Hosted inside CTC’s Main Street theater, this karaoke-style singing competition ranks among the top five strongly attended productions the CTC has every year, said Simpson.
Even though the raw talent can sometimes bring even a blush to the faces of understanding viewers, it can be a launching pad for the undiscovered or a venue for people to let escape a pent-up performer inside themselves.
“Come out, be a local or from the region, or whatever, come out, share your skill, your talent, your passion…other local folks want to experience what you have to offer,” he said, hawking the program in his other role as promoter-in-chief at the theater.
Maggie Cady, CTC general manager, put it succinctly early this year when discussing the program.
“It (the show) gets people on stage who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise. It’s a great opportunity for people to do something they love, are learning or good at, and can do for their friends and community,” she said.
In the weekly performance running until March 26, spot seekers are first given “auditions” in front of the live audience in South Kingstown’s own — and kinder — version of American Idol. Judges dole out disappointment and award opportunity to those competing.
This talent competition during these first few weeks narrows the competitors to the “Sweet 16,” as Simpson called them, though not attaching that description to their voices.
In the next weeks of elimination, the numbers drop from 16 to 12, before quarterfinals, semifinals and lastly the top group from which the winners are chosen and who receive small financial prizes. Kaitlyn Tarro, hailing from Smithfield, won the 2019 competition, and is now working on building her brand of bluesy pop-rock soulfulness.
Simpson said Kevin Broccoli, artistic director of Epic Theater Company in Cranston, will return as a judge along with Katrina Fortier who served last year as a judge for the first time, but she has staffed Idol shows since they started.
Two veteran judges, Sarah Van Pelt and Elyssa Bouressa, occasionally will jump in, he said, adding that there always will be three judges present during a performance. He said he is also recruiting another judge.
Broccoli, in comments to The Independent about the upcoming show, said his third stint as a judge allows him to bring insight and understanding to the competition.
“In the early rounds, you just want to find memorability. Someone who stands out from everyone else,” he confided.
“I’m a theater guy, so I’m always looking at how someone works the crowd, what song choice they’re coming in with, and whether or not they’re able to make a real impression that’s going to make them stand out,” Broccoli said.
Each week brought change in the performers as they tried to up their game and better their talent, he said.
“Last year, I think we really set a new high for future participants. The other judges are the best of the best in terms of vocal performance and artistry and they were giving a master class to every single person who took part in the competition,” Broccoli explained.
“You could really see people evolving from week-to-week and by the end, it was just a knockdown, amazing concert,” he added.
“By the end, it was just a knockdown, amazing concert. You forgot that somebody was going to have to win, because our finalists were so great,” he said.
It is seen that way, too, through the eyes of business supporters, such as Kimberly Kelley, owner of a nearby Allstate insurance agency, who with a donation of $2,500, is the show’s overall sponsor.
“Wakefield Idol has become a favorite as it’s something I can share with both my teenage daughter and my mother who is in her 70s. This music competition appeals to all ages,” she said.
This sponsorship is the largest piece of an advertising-marketing event she will do this year, “but I consider it a win-win. It gets my name in front of local families while at the same time supports our local arts community,” she said.
Simpson, who founded the theater, is as bold as the brassiest singers, when he’s seeking funds to support this program.
Using direct contact through email or calling the theater, his invitation on the CTC website shouts: “Want to become a sponsor? We have several different tiers of sponsorships available for Wakefield Idol to meet your needs!”
As the performers do, he also torques up the opportunity, by telling potential donors that “sponsorship can get you: A live commercial by host Chris Simpson, a banner onstage for Wakefield Idol, prime spot in the Wakefield Idol program and promotion on our website and social media.”
It’s all part of his business and community schtick for keeping the theater financially sound and continuing to cement its unique offerings — ranging from plays and improvisational performances to classes and special events — in the community.
“The training, the classes, the shows we offer are all in the spirit of emphasizing that there is talent and skill and possibility within all of us, and encouraging our community to think about it that way,” he said.