11 finalists ready to shine at Orpheum Star Search
Special to The Commercial Appeal
Though pageants and talent shows have always been a part of Southern life, the Orpheum Star Search is still among the newer ways a talented kid can get noticed.
Since 2003, the theater has auditioned hundreds of teenagers each year and brought the best of them before a big panel of judges.
The latest hopefuls, including two classical musicians and a slew of singers who cover everything from jazz standards to soul hits, vie Saturday night. Unlike other talent competitions, finalists at the Orpheum get to sing with a live band.
For some competitors, Orpheum Star Search has offered a chance to hone musical skills that will likely stay with them all their lives.
Last year’s winner, Brandon Bailey, now a biochemistry major at the University of Memphis, took up the harmonica seriously at 16. Without ever having set foot in a blues club, he learned all he could from library books and YouTube videos.
“My advantage was that I was playing an uncommon instrument,” he said. “The disadvantage was that the singers all had a lot more experience performing than me.”
He hopes to be a doctor, but he’ll keep playing the blues harp. He has an open invitation to sit in with a few bands on Beale Street, and he’s a special guest artist Saturday night.
Alice Roberts, the Orpheum’s vice president of education, says no winner has achieved national stardom yet, but that does not mean it hasn’t helped launch careers.
“How do you measure success?” Roberts said. “One of the singers is now a performer on cruise ships. Another got a full ride to college. One is a minister of music, and another had a Broadway callback. So I think it’s been encouraging to a lot of people.”
The Orpheum’s judges can assess just about every angle. They include Michael Ching of Opera Memphis; Jon Hornyak, executive director of the Memphis chapter of The Recording Academy; music producer Ron Magness; promoter Cameron Mann; Stax musician Marvell Thomas; songwriter Mary Unobsky; ballet teacher Katie Smythe; Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden; and soap opera actress Peggy McCay.
The 11 finalists are Daniel Ashmore, 19, of Southaven; Suzanne Chapman, 17, of Germantown; Alex Goldman, 17, of Meridian, Miss.; Henry Lui, 17, of Jackson, Tenn.; James Curtis Mays II, 16, of Bartlett; Melodie Moore, 16, of Memphis; Rakeem Sprinkle, 17, of Bartlett; Melanie Stanek, 18, of Memphis; Kristian Alexius Thomas, 19, of Memphis; Amanda Tittle, 19, of Memphis; and Ashley Brooke Wieronski, 19, of Southaven.