Evergreen Country Idol finalists head off to Evergreen State Fair

From left, Kela Stelzig, Rae Solomon, Aaron Willie, Fabian Cordoba, Katrina Ryder and Vanessa Thompson are all headed to the Evergreen State Fairs Evergreen Country Idol. -
From left, Kela Stelzig, Rae Solomon, Aaron Willie, Fabian Cordoba, Katrina Ryder and Vanessa Thompson are all headed to the Evergreen State Fairs Evergreen Country Idol.
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ARLINGTON Instead of sending two singers to the Evergreen State Fair, the Arlington Variety House will be sending six Evergreen Country Idol finalists.
Variety House co-owner Linda Follett informed the contestants after all 10 finalists had performed in the old Arlington High School auditorium Aug. 4.
Because the Variety House is the only venue for the Evergreen Country Idol contest that allows entrants under 21, it boasts a wide variety of hopefuls, from high school students to stay-at-home moms, with a few who hope to make a living doing what they love.
Bonnie Drake was one of several Arlington residents to take part in the competition, which lasted 11 weeks. Like fellow Arlington native Heidi Woolman, she wasnt accustomed to performing in public when the competition began, but they overcame their anxieties to make it to the Aug. 4 finals.
The hardest part was dealing with sweaty palms, a fast heartbeat and a dry mouth, said Drake, a 47-year-old dental hygienist student at Shoreline Community College. But when strangers tell me, to my face, that I was awesome on stage, its all worth it.
Ive wanted to sing since I was young, said Heidi Woolman, a 17-year-old Arlington High School student whos only been taking singing lessons for the past two years. My brother Adam is the main reason I stuck with it. There were so many times when I wanted to quit. I couldnt imagine not doing it now.
At the age of 16, Lakewoods Chelsea Stevens was the youngest finalist Aug. 4. Her interest in singing was sparked by musicals she saw at 10, and she followed up on it by performing in musicals herself. By contrast, Rebecca Woolmans only public singing was part of puppet shows she performed as a preteen and teenager, but both praised the camaraderie they saw fostered by the Variety House.
Everyones been so supportive of each other, said Stevens, who also performed in this years Strawberry Festival talent show.
I only tried out because I was trying to get a friend to try it, said Arlingtons Rebecca Woolman, a 26-year-old mother of three. It was just a joke. I didnt think Id actually make it. Weve just had fun. Get up on stage and dont worry if you look silly, because you could do well. I love the Variety House.
Arlingtons Aaron Willie and Fabian Cordoba were among the six winners of the Aug. 4 finals headed off to the Evergreen State Fair, in the last week of August. Both men have taken their passion for music from a hobby to a potential career. Cordoba has entered the past three seasons of American Idol, and Willie is a bass guitarist and backup singer in the band Justice Once.
Its difficult, because I keep hearing the harmony parts when Im trying to sing lead, said 22-year-old Willie, who works as a carpenter. Every once in a while, Ill still slip up. Everybodys got something special that makes them happy and Ive found mine in music. Performing is such a rush, to see if I can make people enjoy it as much as I do. I really appreciate the opportunity the Variety House has given people here.
Music really is an international language, said 27-year-old Cordoba, who works at a law firm by day and as a pizza deliveryman by night. All my free time is devoted to music. You can be having the worst day and the right song will turn it right around. Arlington and Marysville need more places like the Variety House where kids can come because its a non-alcohol-based experience.
In many ways, Arlingtons Katrina Ryder and Marysvilles Vanessa Thompson couldnt be more different, but theyll be joining Willie and Cordoba at the Evergreen State Fair, and theyve both enjoyed the company of their fellow contestants.
Weve been asking each other for advice, said Ryder, a 33-year-old mother of four. Yes, its still a competition, but it focuses on your voice, rather than your appearance. The judges have respected the performers talents, instead of superfluous stuff. Its nice to hear from other people about my singing, since my family likes it, but they can be a bit biased. I dont care as much about the contest part of it, because Im just doing it for my own enjoyment.
I have big respect for all the other contestants, said Thompson, a 22-year-old whos signed with her familys recording label and released her first CD last year. I love meeting other local artists through events like this. Anyone can perform, but it takes dedication to touch peoples hearts. Singing is my way of expressing who I am. The Variety House has been very professional.
The top two winners of the Aug. 4 finals were Rae Solomon of Renton and Kela Stelzig of Anacortes. Like Thompson, 20-year-old Solomon is making a bid to go pro, while Stelzig has competed in multiple singing contests since childhood.
Im definitely a country girl, Solomon said. I grew up on Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. The Variety House has been so welcoming, its almost like a family.
I love being able to relate to an audience, Stelzig said. Everyone relates to music, so when they get involved, you can feel it. If you bring it to them correctly, they can feel what you feel.
Variety House co-owner Michael Follett and sound technician Adam Woolman were the in-house judges of their Evergreen Country Idol finals, while Nola Smith and Adam Countryman were the two outside judges. All four were impressed by the diversity and progress of the contestants.
We had folks from as far away as Puyallup, some of whom had never sung in public before, said Michael Follett, who explained that the judges criteria gave equal weight to vocal ability, showmanship and song delivery. But they worked hard and long. One lady remade herself as a singer. She was already a great singer, but she learned how to be a showman as well.
Cordoba, Ryder, Solomon, Stelzig, Thompson and Willie are all heading to the Evergreen State Fairs Evergreen Country Idol and will be competing with other venues finalists for cash prizes from $1,000 for first place to $50 for sixth place, as well as the chance to open for Josh Turner at the fair and be interviewed by 94.1 KMPS FM. The exact dates and times of their competitions at the fair have yet to be announced. Evergreen Country Idol is sponsored by the Evergreen State Fair and KMPS FM.

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