BY WILL ROSS
BRANDON—Brandon Idol made a triumphant return on the evening of Saturday, January 14 after a 2-year hiatus. The local singing competition put on by the Brandon Town Recreation Department brings in talent from across the state to compete for fame, prestige, and a grand prize of $1,000. The event features vocalists who come to showcase their skills over a five-month competition. The shows take place at the Brandon Town Hall Theater and the public is more than welcome to come join the audience and show support for local artists.
First launched in 2019, Brandon Idol was intended to be an annual event but, because of Covid-19, this is the first year the show has been back since it was cut short in early 2020. The feedback in previous years was “overwhelmingly positive,” as Town Recreation Director Bill Moore put it. The hosts, Moore and Colleen Wright, have been waiting for an opportunity to bring back this event. The first year there was a tremendous response as reflected in the number of contestants who signed up, and though there are fewer performers this year, the level of talent is very high. Brandon Idol has been called the greatest singing competition in Vermont, and after watching the performances on Saturday, we can see why.
The competition showcases a wide variety of talented artists, performing songs from various genres, each with their own unique style. Similar to previous years, the competition will feature one show per month, each with a specific theme. January was an audition with open genre, February will focus on country music, March will be the 50s and 60s, April will bring around some 80s tunes, and the final competition will be held in May, where finalists will pick their own songs. Additionally, all finalists will have the possibility to get paid to perform at the “Brandon Idol Night” at this year’s Brandon Carnival.
Upcoming shows will not only feature a live band as accompaniment but will bring in a special guest performer each night. Moore noted that the format of the competition lets the performers audition in a manner they are comfortable with, singing over a pre-recorded track, then pushes them out of their comfort zone into playing with a live band. This is a great opportunity for artists to gain experience in various performance settings and can really contribute to their growth.
Prior to the show, some of the artists shared their excitement about the opportunity to perform in this event. Shannon Wright noted that in the past few years, the only real opportunity has been busking, troubadour style, at small local venues, saying it is nice to have an organized event like this that is dedicated to music. Irene Simons felt that these opportunities don’t come around very often. “It is kind of hard around here because of Vermont’s low population; there’s not much opportunity,” said Simons. It is easy to see why these folks were so excited to have a chance to share their talent with an audience.
This kind of performance was very new to some of the artists. Gunnar Timsman typically plays in a band with a guitar in hand, which is much different from performing solo with only a microphone. Baker Larock noted that the unfamiliar hardware alone can have an impact on a performance, and hearing your voice from a monitor can sometimes drown out the music underneath. Regardless of the unfamiliar territory these artists stepped up to the plate in a big way for Saturdays show.
Many of these performers have sung their whole life, but for some it was the first time singing in front of an audience. Regardless of the experience level, it can be intimidating for anyone to perform for a crowd. On top of this, some of the performers had limited time to prepare due to short notice or sickness. But each of these artists was compelled to get on stage and share their voice with the world for many reasons.
Irene Simons had hoped to do the competition in 2019 alongside her sister-in-law but was unable to commit due to scheduling conflicts. When the opportunity didn’t work out in 2020, Simons vowed she would jump on the next chance to be a part of the competition, regardless of the monthly commute from New Hampshire where she lives.
Peggy Sue Rozell grew up surrounded by music and it soon became her primary passion. Unfortunately, due to medical circumstances, she nearly lost her ability to sing. But this didn’t stop Rozell: through lots of vocal training Peggy Sue has maintained her voice and was thrilled to be able to perform for the first time in over two years. “I just love to do it. I just love to sing for people,” she said.
Performers on Saturday got to select their own piece to sing as an audition. There was a wide variety of talent brought to the stage. The show started off with an enchanting performance from Suzie Watters. Her charming, smooth rendition of “God Bless the Child” captivated the audience immediately. Next, Baker LaRock delivered a rich, soulful cover of “When I Was Your Man.” This chilling performance was followed by Venus Diamondis, who sang an inspired version of “Happier Than Ever,” in a thrilling and passionate, yet touching style. The next artist up was Shannon Wright, whose charismatic, baritone rendition of the country classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” won the audience’s heart, not to mention their votes for crowd favorite.
After a brief intermission, Peggy Sue Rozell put on a stellar performance of “Mama He’s Crazy,” once again serenading an audience with her soothing, hypnotic voice. Irene Simons followed this with an upbeat cover of “Heart Like Mine,” which was beautifully enthralling. Gunnar Timsman closed out the auditions with a riveting performance of “Waltz #2 (XO), executing the dramatic rhapsody with fluidity and grandiose.
The performances were followed by a vote for crowd favorite. During this time, Bill Moore took the stage to sing a surprise number of his own. The votes were tallied and Shannon Wright walked away as the crowd favorite on Saturday. As the time came to determine which artists would be eliminated, there was another surprise as Moore announced that all the performers would be moving on past the audition stage.
The first performance in the Brandon Idol series was a rousing success with around 75 audience members in attendance. Moore and Wright expect to see more engagement as the competition continues. It is certainly a community-driven event, noted Colleen Wright; everyone inspires everyone else. Moore pointed out that the past three years were tough for everybody, and that it is nice to have people come back out to see old friends and familiar faces. One couple in particular Crystal Sears and Jim Russo, have been coming to the Brandon Idol events since day one in 2019. The two are big fans of the Brandon Rec events and always try to come out to show their support for the talent. This is the kind of community that makes events like this possible.
Moving forward, the seven artists from Saturday’s show will be accompanied by 3 others who were featured in the 2020 competition that was cut short due to covid. The next show in the series will take place on February 18th at 7:00 in the Brandon Town Hall. So, dust off your old leather boots and don your ten-gallon hats, as you come to join the community and watch these local artists compete in next month’s country music showcase.