SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The NCAA’s Final Four starts April 1 in Houston but just two days earlier, Southern Rhode Island’s own version of “Win or Go Home” will take place as Contemporary Theater Company’s annual Wakefield Idol puts some of the region’s best singers under the bright lights for their own championship.
If there’s one thing theater performance and basketball have in common, it is just that — performance on a given night and at a given time. There are no do-overs.
“All four of the finalists have blown us away with jaw-dropping, A-game performances,” said Tammy Brown, artistic director of the Contemporary Theater Company, which has hosted the popular singing competition for nine years.
“They know how to work an audience, how to excite an audience. Many of them have brought costumes that fit with the songs they sing and funky costumes to excite the audience,” she said.
A fixture in the CTC winter theater scene that draws more than 50 contestants vying for these top four spots, Wakefield Idol also seen hundreds of spectators during its run that started in January and ends on March 30.
It is Wakefield’s own — and kinder — version of American Idol that brings out home-grown as well as want-to-be-discovered singers and performers. It is somewhat karaoke style, complete with judges who give advice, dole out disappointment and award opportunities to those competing.
On March 30, the four finalists will come to the CTC main theater stage with hopes that their songs and performances are well rehearsed and ready to go in the quest to become number one. Lingering, though, will be the question: Is it good enough?
It’s an edge-of-the-seat scene for the audience as well as this one night will bring the crowning moment of surviving many rounds in which others were eliminated by CTC’s panel of judges.
Latrina Crim, a final four contestant this year, knows what it’s like to come up short in the competition, having been eliminated during early rounds in previous years.
“The reason why I entered the contest was I wanted to try it again,” she said. “I competed last year. I was let go in the top eight. It definitely made me work harder. Honestly it was the push I needed.”
Getting to this point has been a challenge, Crim explained.
“This year hasn’t been easy,” she said. “A lot of downfalls have been happening in my life. Wakefield’s idol brings me so much joy. I listen to the coaches every week and build off what they critique to me.”
The joy of singing - and performing — also enticed Gina Rose Napolitano, 24, to try Idol. She also now is a finalist.
“It had been years since I performed outside of a karaoke bar when I auditioned for Wakefield Idol. I was really just hoping to get out there again and bring joy to people through my music,” she said. “Not only has that purpose been fulfilled, but my expectations have been exceeded and it’s such an honor to have made it this far in the competition.”
Finalist Craig Earl DelBonis said the experience has been invaluable for him this season.
“The judges’ feedback is probably my favorite part about this contest, they really have great insight,” he said. “I know my weaknesses, and it’s hard to overcome them because I can’t help releasing all of my weird energy if the song is demanding it, but I have been more conscious about managing my breath. Audience reaction and participation is what powers me. Always has.”
The remaining finalist, Joey Fortune of Narragansett, wasn’t available for comment.
Brown, who is an actor with exquisite performing abilities and a promoter of the arts with the same passion, gave a glimpse of what it takes to compete. It is not, as some might think, a cakewalk.
“It’s not just waking up there on the stage and singing,” she said. During the course of the entire weekly competition that runs through the end of March anyone advanced to the next stage is compiling a list of 10 to 12 songs that they must sing — and perform — well.”
Contestants hear praise and criticism from judges while embracing vulnerability in this modeling of the “American Idol” television series.
So what is the “secret sauce” that keeps Wakefield Idol going year after year, bringing together scores of singers who funnel to a final four?
“People watch sports for the stories,” explained Maggie Cady, theater general manager and actor in a previous interview. “You get invested in your team. People watch the players during the course of the season. People would lose interest if not for continuing games.”
A lot like the March Madness Final Four?
“It is the same at Wakefield idol,” she said, adding that people get invested in the stories of singers and why they sing the songs they do.
“The audience wants to see what they do the next week, see them grow over the course of the season, always stretching themselves. It’s always fun to see people get invested in the season of Wakefield Idol and see them grow over the course of the competition,” Cady said.
Wakefield Idol returns to the CTC stage tonight with a special evening of music as local artist Eden Casteel and Evening Sky will perform with singers from past Idol competitions as well as this year’s top performers. The finals are set for next Thursday evening. Both shows begin at 7 p.m.
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