“Ability is nothing without opportunity” Napoleon Bonaparte
After seven weeks of competition, the 5th Annual Metrostar Talent Challenge came to a rousing conclusion on August 20 cheered on by an audience of friends, relatives, and cabaret devotees.
Open to any performer who has not had a major engagement at the Metropolitan Room, applicants are whittled down to 55, then 18, 10, 7, and 5. Each week, vocalists receive constructive criticism (and points) from a panel of permanent judges as well as a changing roster of industry professionals serving as guest arbiters. This year’s permanent judges included journalist Roy Sander, who has chaired since the beginning, journalist Rob Lester, the room’s booking manager, Tanya Holt, and actor/singer/director/teacher Eric Michael Gillett. Guest judges for the final event included impresario Scott Siegel, producer Jamie de Roy, Time Out critic Adam Feldman and Huffington Post critic David Finkle.
Singers are rated on criteria such as presentation, connection to the audience, understanding and communication of the lyrics, personal interpretation, accompanying patter, and, of course, musical and vocal ability. The winner receives a produced engagement at the Metropolitan Room and a live recording. Two runners up serve as opening acts for the winner and receive demo recordings of their appearances.
Tommy Dose and Eva Kantor
We begin the evening with the “last man standing” (where ARE the male cabaret singers of tomorrow?!) Tommy Dose, whom one can otherwise find at the piano in Don’t Tell Mama. Dose sings “Both Sides Now” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” with sweet feeling. He connects the numbers with grateful reference to older sisters “who push me to do better and more.” Sander appreciates an “emotional openness,” while Feldman feels we’re observing choices that should be hidden. I agree with both critiques.
Next Eva Kantor who graduated Tisch School of the Arts offers “The Music That Makes Me Dance” and “The Light in the Piazza.” From the first phrase it’s clear this is an actress as well as an accomplished singer. She’s credible and sympathetic. Kantor connects the songs by describing the characters they embody. The second number is particularly evocative. We’re taken into the experience. Her range and control are excellent, though toning it down just a notch is advisable. Both Sander and Gillett agree with my take—Gillett tells Kantor “I could watch and listen to you forever.” Watch for this artist.
Altovise and Billie Roe
Altovise, who started singing in high school talent shows, has a voice and style that seems to belong in R & B. Performing “I Will always Love You” and “Don’t You Remember” reflects this. Fully focused on the music and its phrasing, the artist seems oblivious to both her audience and the actual lyrics. Strong vocals (a brief acapella turn was very fine) notwithstanding, there is no connection established. Sander and Feldman reiterate my silent point of view. Gillett commends her brief patter as being “present in the moment.”
Billie Roe, back from a 30 year performing hiatus, sings “He Touched Me” dropping 30 years with breathless excitement. “Sometimes love is like that. Other times it just grabs you and just never lets go” is her lead in for the lesser known “Martha” which speaks of a flame carried over 40 years. Both choices are touchingly performed. Roe has a way of personalizing lyrics. Siegel applauds her transition between numbers. Feldman identifies her as a “real storyteller.” I find her warm and look towards more vocal consistency.
Elizabeth Cernades and T. Oliver Reid
Elizabeth Cernades who otherwise performs with “Les Bandits,” launches into “Take It All” with a confident pop voice and closed eyes. The audience might just as well not be there. Nor is there any connection to the lyrics. “Blow Gabriel, Blow, a real Broadway showstopper, again evidences no acknowledgment of her listeners, no awareness of lyrical content. Siegel appreciates her vocal freedom. Feldman suggests her phrasing is too much like that of Patti Lupone. Cernades has a terrific instrument, but without intimacy it will not serve cabaret.
While the judges confer, we’re entertained by three other artists: 2010 Metrostar winner T. Oliver Reid who has gone on to Broadway as well as further cabaret, speaks about his own contest experience, then sings two songs. His rendition of “What I Did for Love” ranges from dramatic stage whisper to passionate recall.
Eric Michael Gillett and Marissa Mulder
Eric Michael Gillett who is an example of the very best in cabaret, commends the contestants sharing something he says he learned from composer/lyricist Craig Carnelia: “…you can’t be any good till you stop giving a shit what people think.” Gillett sings a 1950s number he performed years ago evoking “an ocean of powder blue dinner jackets.” His rich baritone is almost tactile. The urge to sway overpowers. “Separate Lives” is theater. Every bit of angry, wretched pain comes through as the voice soars. Gillett’s heartfelt love of the art is as clear as his skill.
Finally, 2011 Metrostar winner Marissa Mulder takes the stage to pass on a crown she admits to having left at home. (There is no literal crown.) Mulder is graceful and gracious. She addresses the aspirants with comfortable maturity unseen during last year’s competition. “Rainbow Connection” is an especially lovely rendition. The once shy artist has her audience every second. She has learned to let herself be seen, to share her gifts. Pianist and Musical Director Bill Zefiro, looking über-elegant, accompanies.
All five candidates file onto the stage hearts pounding so loud one can practically hear them. Second Runner Up is Elizabeth Cernades, First Runner Up is Tommy Dose; the winner of the 2012 Metrostar Talent Challenge is Billie Roe. Rowe thanks the room for “putting on this shindig,” her fellow contestants, the judges and supporters. “This was an amazing experience for an old Jane like me,” she says self effacingly. The rest is all hugs.
Host-with-the-Most Tom Gamblin keeps the evening humming along with affable quips and acknowledgments. The accomplished Tracy Stark accompanies all artists on piano.
Metrostar’s Talent Challenge is an invaluable experience. If you share the dream, follow up with a risk come next June/July. As the lottery commercial declares “You can’t win it if you’re not in it.”
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
For the club’s calendar so to the Metropolitan Room website.