Arts & Culture

Singers raise the roof at 16th RichCity Idol

By Don Fennell and Lorraine Graves

Published 4:49 PDT, Thu May 30, 2019

Last Updated: 3:42 PDT, Tue July 2, 2019

A night of enthusiasm started early, as the ten Idols’ families and friends settled into their seats at the Gateway Theatre. Those supporting their own friends, their school mates and their offspring in RichCIty Idol filled the civic theatre with bubbling anticipation.

A night of enthusiasm started early, as the ten Idols’ families and friends settled into their seats at the Gateway Theatre. Those supporting their own friends, their school mates and their offspring in RichCIty Idol filled the civic theatre with bubbling anticipation.

Sixteen years ago, two 16-year-olds created RichCity Idol, a talent competition that starts at each school, then offers up one winner per school at the gala concert in Richmond’s largest theatre.

Before the stage went dark, the audience bantered. As the lights went out, dead silence reigned.

The show started with a video of old footage from the first RichCity Idol followed by an edited piece with each of this year’s finalists.

In an evening of exceptional talent, the two hosts, Haniya Syed and Kevin Wu, also stood out. In other years, the hosts’ banter relied heavily on reading scripted notes and puns. This year, the MCs vibrantly spoke to the audience and not their cards. They engaged the audience and participants and ably handled any changes with aplomb. With some of the best stage presence and audience interaction, they have a future.

After a video, that generated great cheers every time a different finalist appeared, it was time to introduce the ten finalists with a tightly choreographed song and dance number where each idol took a solo turn.

As the competition began in earnest, first out, to cheers and shouts of “Charlie, Charlie!” 13-year-old McMath student Charlie Barstow took the stage. From the start his voice was powerful and skilled. He seemed a little thrown by the guitar being out of tune but sang with strength.

Judge Jennifer Zhang said, “Your tone is awesome. You have a really cool rasp in your voice.”

While judge Trevor Hoffman said, “I saw Ed Sheeran last year and he has nothing on you.”

When McNair’s Parker Linzmeier entered the stage to enthusiastic cheers, the Grade 8 student said he practised his music to really make his dad proud of him. Singing “You are the Reason” show-cased Linzmeier’s high range and dramatic pauses well. Huge cheers flowed from the crowd as this local singer and baseball player ended on a poignant note.

Judge Samson said, “You were really feeling the song. Good job.”

While Zhang said, “I loved your performance. You have a beautiful voice, especially when you belted it.”

Hoffman said, “I really liked your subtlety. The way you fell off those notes really created a mood.

That’s an easy song to blast your way throw but those quiet moments were more powerful than the loud ones.”

Based on what we heard. His father must be very proud indeed.

With MC Syed calling her,” A tiny girl with a giant voice,” Cambie’s Grade 8, Jada Jubida said she started singing when her Grade 1 teacher asked who wanted to do a solo.

“I put my arm up because I thought ‘solo’ was a game,” Jubida said.

After singing Alicia Keyes’ “If I Ain’t Got You” in a silky smooth voice the first judge, Troy, said, “Your pitch is bang on. That’s a very hard song. Emotionally it was bang on. I think if you’re 13 now, in a couple of years, watch out.”

Zhang said, “I’m your biggest fan so watch out for the fan count.”

Hoffman said, “You nailed it. It’s hard to critique such an amazing performance. On those notes that were too low, rewrite the melody a little bit if it’s not working for you.”

McRoberts’ Kevin Chen, at 16, tried out his newly-deepened voice that seems well on its way to the baritone range. As he sang, he took energy from the cheers in the audience as he progressed through the song. A person behind us said, “Oh, my gosh.”

Fresh off a nine day run of Richmond Children’s Theatre’s musical “Cinderella” where he played the prince, Chen sang “Never Enough.”

Judge Hoffman suggested Chen play around more with his vibrato on the longer, held notes.

Zhang said, “I especially loved it when you sang with your chest voice.”

While Samson said, “You have experience, I can tell. I see the stage and how you cover it, how you perform. I can see you being on stage for a long time.”

When Palmer’s Ava Tan came on stage, Kevin Chen’s previously-played video started then the guitar pick-up wasn’t picking up so the able technical crew quickly swapped cords.

While her finger picking was good, the lack of tune on the guitar hindered its appeal. When Tan paused, the audience paused along with her in silence. She started the next verse a cappella, in pitch, and the audience cheered.

Loud cheers erupted as her song ended.

MC Syed said it was like listening to Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendez Once again, the crowd cheered in agreement.

Judge Zhang said, “I also went to Palmer so I loved that. I really like your tone. You have a powerful voice. Go, Palmer!”

Hoffman said, “You have an amazing instrument in your voice. I love the way you did this arrangement.”

And Samson said, “For a 13-year-old you have really good chops, really good instincts. That dual lip tone is really dope.” And enthused about Tan’s beaming smile.

Sophie Li, in Grade 12 at Steveston-London, also entered to huge applause with the wrong video playing.

Unfazed, she said, “When I found out I was my school’s Idol, I was really surprised because I just entered for fun.”

Sports play a big part in Li’s life, “I’ve actually been on my school’s badminton team since grade 8 and this year, in Grade 12, we made the provincials heading. I’m head off to Victoria for them tomorrow,” she said.

After Li sang Adele’s first single, “Chasing Pavements,” Judge Samson said, “I love that song. I have to separate that song from your performance. I liked the emotion. You have a great smile, a great personality and I really enjoyed your performance.”

Zhang, who was on Palmer’s badminton team during her high school days, said, “You have a really soothing tone. It really goes well with the song. You do a good job of modifying your vowels to project a good sound especially during the chorus when the notes are higher.”

Hoffman pronounced it a good performance and said, “At the end of the song, you really started opening up emotionally. Backstage, I’ll actually sing the song in my head so when I come out on stage, I am in that state emotionally.”

With the MCs back on stage, Syed asked how many in the audience were from Burnett and there were cheers.

When she asked, “How many of you know the next performer, Liam Fetigan?” Shrieking cheers filled the hall.

Asked about his spare time, Fetigan replied, “Aside from singing, I like watching really bad 80s rom coms.” At which point, more cheers erupted from his retinue.

As the Grade 12 student from Burnett started Céline Dion’s, “I Surrender,” more loud cheers filled the theatre. The same happened at each chorus, with the cheers at the song’s end the loudest of the night so far.

After the performance, when asked about his ability to dress so well, Fetigan replied, “My favourite store is Urban Outfitters.”

As co-president of Burnett’s glee club, Fetigan spoke of his pleasure when putting on shows around our community.

Judge Zhang said, “First of all, I loved your performance. I believed it. You have a great tone and a strong voice. It was almost like Céline was coming through. I love your crowd interaction.”

Samson said, “Looking pretty stylish there, buddy. Technically, it was one of the better performances all night. You did a good job. You made it your own and put it into a range that you’re comfortable with. I believed you. With your singing, you drew in me and I forgot I was here for a second. I really commend you on that.”

Hoffman said, “Great job. When I heard that your song was ‘I Surrender’ and then you came out with the shorts on I thought, ‘Ok, how is this going to go?’ but it was totally amazing.”

Next up, Richmond High’s Armine Ghojoyan told the audience, “Singing helps me feel better when I don’t feel myself and it erases my negative thoughts and emotions and helps me get back to normal. Without it, I’m just not me.”

With the backing music’s start of choral music and lone piano, Ghojoyan swayed to the sound, her hair flowing down the full length of her back swayed gracefully.

As she ended to more cheers, Judge Hoffman said, “Yours was the strongest performance for me all night. Your stage presence, you have this angelic presence that suited the song perfectly.”

Zhang said she loved both Ghojoyan’s song choice and how she sang it, “You gave it a unique touch. You have some of that sandy, smoky quality in your voice.”

Samson said, “I agree with Trevor, yours was one of the best performances all night. I’m listening to your voice and thinking maybe I should call you in a couple of years for some demo sessions because you could be really good.”

MacNeill Grade 10 student, Aldrin Albos, evoked more female cheers as he entered the stage. The 15-year-old said music is more than a hobby that singing in particular has a big impact on his life. “When I’m singing, I’m in a whole new world,” he said.

Singing “Lemonade” as he accompanied himself on the guitar, he invited everyone to sway and clap along which caused big cheers from the crowd. Near the end, he had the audience singing along with him until the ending which met even more cheering.

Interviewed onstage by MC Syed, Albos talked about his band’s trip to the Philippines, “We did a concert to raise money for those less fortunate.”

Judge Samson said of Albos’s performance, “Amazing, man. It’s a little like channelling Bruno Mars. Thank you so much for tuning the guitar. That sounded amazing.”

Hoffman said, “I really enjoyed that you were totally in your element. The audience engagement you achieved was the first in this entire evening so far. If you put out an album tomorrow, it will totally be on my playlist.”

Zhang said, “I really felt like I was at your concert because you really interacted with the crowd. I felt like I paid $100 for my ticket.”

The last idol to perform, Boyd’s Mariam El Lahham, though only 14, made quite an impression from the moment she stepped onstage in a beret and a classic Parisian singer’s ensemble.

Citing Barney as her first musical hero that she sang along with, El Lahham recounted how her mother would do laundry in the basement, “My mom would sit me down on top of the washer or dryer and would print out and teach me all these Christina Aguilera songs.”

Singing the Nina Simone classic, “Feeling Good,” the audience had their socks knocked off. The cheering started two lines into the song.

El Lahham sang the entire first verse a cappella then hit the second verse, pitch perfect with the backing track. More cheers.

El Lahham’s stage presence belied her age. Her movements those of a professional on stage. No mic stand for her as she connected with the audience.

As she ended, the crowd roared the loudest cheers of the evening as El Lahham covered her mouth in amazement. One audience member said, “A star is born.”

As MC Wu walked back onto the stage, the cheers continued. When it finally calmed, he asked about El Lahham’s inspirations for her own musical compositions, “Personal experiences, whatever comes to mind. I put it down on paper if I don’t know how to get it off my chest.”

Judge Hoffman echoed the audience’s impressions, “That was amazing, super professional. That could have been on stage in Madison Square Gardens. You really showed me the theatrical nature of the song. Technically, you really nailed all the notes. You should be super proud, nice work.”

Zhang said, “Sis, you are killing it! The outfit, the highlight, the voice. Your vibrato is amazing.

And you just came out and sang a cappella! This girl has the voice. I flipped.”

Samson said, “You have a beautiful voice. I agree with all the judges. There are really good singers, there are a lot of them around. But you, you are an artist. You are studio-ready. I would love to hear what you sound like in a studio.”

Samson continued, “You did leave an impression on me, even with the few bars you sang originally (in the opening). This was a very special performance. “

He then said the bar has been set higher at RichCity Idol tonight with El Lahham’s performance.

As she left the stage, the roars of support were loud and long, like the screams at a star’s stadium concert.

As the finalists filed back on stage, they each offered a brief a cappella recap of their performance to jog the voters’ minds.

As MC Syed asked the audience, “Who do you think should be in our final five?” enthusiastic chants of “Mariam, Mariam,” arose.

While the judges made their choices for the final five of the ten idols, a variety of door prizes went to ticket-holders mainly on one side of the theatre. MC Syed jokingly encouraged people to move to that section to increase their odds of winning. Amongst prizes of gift certificates for a pizza supper, office supplies, pretzels, video games and aquatic passes, the ones that elicited oohs were for the legendary burger platters from The White Spot Restaurant.

After a thank you to the sponsors, the MCs pointed out that the audience votes over intermission, for the overall winner from among the 5 finalists by putting their ticket stub into a labelled jar for their choice.

The moment came. The five finalists were: Fetigan, Ghojoyan, Barstow (loud cheers), El Lahham, ultra loud cheers and Albos.

In a school-based competition, the pull to vote for your own school’s idol is strong. Some years, the winner can be determined by who brings out the most voting fans. Not this year.

In the washroom, during the break, students were overheard to say, “I voted for Mariam how about your?”

“Yes” said the other.

After the break, as the vote was tallied, the 12 members of the McRoberts Dance team wowed the audience with their skill and coordination.

Guest artist, Chyenne May, wowed the audience with her vocals and guitar accompaniment and The McRoberts Duo, impressed with their hip hop moves.

Some of the large team appeared onstage, thank yous and acknowledgements came next with a special thank you to the Richmond School District for their support particularly David Partidge and Wendy Lim.

The scholarships went to Nancy Song and Jessalyn Chen.

All 10 idols then entered, wearing matching black RichCity Idol t-shirts.

The five finalists stepped forward.

Fetigan won third place.

Barstow second and with the loudest cheer of the night, showing she was the popular choice as well, El Lahham won RichCity Idol 2019. As the balloons dropped onto the joyous idols on stage, it wasn’t until they all group hugged the winner that we saw how tiny 14-year-old El Lahham is.

After a snappy song and dance number by the entire 10 idols, the evening drew to a close.

Other than a few technical glitches such as wrong video cues and a guitar pick-up that acted up, that was quickly solved, nothing showed as an issue other than the fact that everyone had to share one guitar which meant it stayed out of tune for almost all the show. With only the last person using it having it tuned and in pitch. The judges remarked on the difference.

The judges, Samson, Zhang, and Hoffman, exhibited positivity and skill. Couching issues as areas to work on rather than problems, and encouraged the participants. They offered precise praise aimed at particular aspects of each student’s performance.

All the work is done by students from PR to organizing, from back stage to front-of-house.

The three finalists each won time in a recording studio at Blue Light Studios with El Lahham also winning a video recording package.

With judge Samson’s words to El Lahham echoing in our minds, “I would love to hear what you sound like in a studio,” the evening ended as joyous students, idols and families hugged and gradually left the Gateway Theatre.


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