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Idol title is sweet music to her ears

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

The applause had started to become almost polite, even obligatory, by the time the ninth contestant was ready to take the stage for Federal Way's first-ever Idol competition last Wednesday evening. But when master of ceremonies Clay Williams announced Autumn Sturzen's name, the crowd gathered at Steel Lake Park erupted into the kind of cheer reserved for the headliner.

The excitement couldn't have hurt Sturzen's performance of Brian Adams' "Angel." Even though it started as another pulse-tempering, easy rock tune typical of the Top-40 charts, the lulling intro only served to surprise the crowd when Sturzen belted out the chorus with goose-bump raising energy.

It was enough to thrill the audience and launch her to the next level. Out of a field of 12 performers, Sturzen came out on top, winning a check for $500, the chance to record a cd at Knutzen Family Theater, and a chance to compete in the Battle of the Idols at the Puyallup Fair Sept. 16. The winner there will take home a $1,000 prize.

Federal Way's first Idol competition saw an unexpectedly large turnout, with an estimated 800 people seated in lawn chairs or on blankets or standing around the perimeter of the stage where a dozen contestants sang for their chance at some prize money and to move on to the Battle of the Idols.

Many of the contestants relied on old standbys and ballads — difficult choices for getting the crowd to respond with excitement. All of the contestants demonstrated clear vocal skill, but only a few had vocal power, confidence and stage presence.

Sturzen demonstrated confidence on stage, and she wasn't afraid of hearing her own voice. While she, like others, seemed unsure of what to do with herself when it was just background music, her vocal strength — and her willingness to use it — was refreshing.

Runner-up Christy Neilson had the unenviable last spot on the bill, but she picked up the slack with of a toe-tapping country song called "Something More," by Sugarland.

During her engaging performance, the wife and mother of three in real life sang a country fantasy of quitting her job and creating her own happiness with an authentic twang. The audience was pleased as punch, and tapped her for runner-up. Neilson received a $100 check and the chance to go on to Battle of the Idols if Sturzen can't make it.

When all the contestants were finished singing, judges collected ballots from the audience and, huddled together at a table, tallied the votes while the Idols and the crowd mingled in anticipation. Though Neilson and Sturzen were the only contestants who received prize money, all were praised for their talent.

Kyle Robinson wore a black suit and white shirt for his performance of Dean Martin's "That's Amore." As the first smooth, sonorous notes rolled through his microphone, a couple seated in the crowd sighed and gazed at each other happily.

Like other contestants, Robinson had a grasp of his vocal range and clearly could sing, but he also had something more: A sense of pace, and an interesting stage presence — though he spent most of his set off the stage serenading the first few rows.

He twirled and dropped to one knee to croon a white-haired lady, then stood and sang, "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie ... that's amore ... "

Heather Hannah held the crowd enrapt with her performance of Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." It's a standby, but a challenging one, and Hannah was up for the vocal scales and embellishments that make the song a notorious tear-jerker.

Casey Bogert took to the stage with her own guitar and no background music to perform a piece she wrote herself called "You're It." The beat, melody and lyrics were standard pop, but it was refreshing to see a contestant who could write and perform her own music.

The crowd came to a hush for Malik Russell's a cappella performance of Donnel Jones' "I Wanna Love You," a brave choice without backing music to disguise any flaws or missed notes. His skill and vocal style captivated the audience, even over the distracting clamor of children playing on park equipment nearby.

Hannah Smith, who performed Julie Roberts' "Wake Up Older," had the brassy, early-morning-cup-of-coffee voice suited to folk rock. She only broke out of the even, rhythmic flow of the song once, but it was an exciting, if short, glimpse into her vocal ability.

The Federal Way Idol competition marked the last performance in the city's Federal Way Summer Sounds series

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall!@fedwaymiriror.com

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