By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Indiana’s got talent. There was no doubt about that on May 16 when Hoosier Park hosted the semifinal competition of its Idol All-In contest.
Nine people made it to the semifinals, all vying for a $2,500 cash prize, plus a studio recording session and a gig at Hoosier Park. Three are now left to battle it out tomorrow.
“Pretty darned impressive,” Michelle Belle Cook described the field of candidates that made it to the semifinals. Cook, of professional country singing duo Cook and Belle, is one of the competition’s judges. “These are some of the best singers in East Central Indiana.”
The competitors each delivered knock-out performances in a variety of genres. They included Casey James, of Henderson, Ky.; Anderson University student Layke Jones of Anderson; Michael Thomas of Indianapolis; Lapel’s Lisa Ray; Amy Brooks from Warren; AU student Hailey Earp from St. Joseph, Ill.; Shelby Jones of Greenwood; Rena Cunningham from Indianapolis and Tyler Stuart from Westville.
The judges narrowed the field of competitors down to nine semi-finalists during three evenings of live auditions, when they listened to more than 75 aspiring singers. Cook, along with Anderson artist development professional Mark Pay and Gaither Studio sound engineer Chad Evans evaluated vocal ability, stage presence and marketability in determining who advanced in the competition.
The judges conceded that it was indeed a difficult selection among the semi-finalists. In the end, the three finalists were Lisa Ray, Rena Cunningham, and Michael Thomas.
Lisa Ray, 40, of Lapel, gave a strong performance of “Chrome Plated Heart” by Melissa Etheridge, packed with stage presence and great vocals.
“This is as good as anything you’re going to see out there,” said judge Mark Pay. Cook compared her sound to Bonnie Tyler’s.
“I’ve been singing since I was five years old on the back porch of my grandma’s Kentucky home — ‘Yes, Jesus Loves Me’,” said Ray. “I love it. It’s definitely my emotional outlet.”
The mother of two works in the finance department at an Anderson medical facility. If she wins, Ray knows just what she’ll do. “I’ve always wanted one of those Roland pianos with recording capabilities. ... I’d start writing music again.”
Rena Cunningham, 23, of Indianapolis, was right at home on the stage as she sang a compelling, slow arrangement of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley that wowed the crowd. As a soldier in the Army, Cunningham toured for a year performing with “The Soldier Show’” in Japan, Korea, Europe and the United States.
She left active duty in December, and now serves in the Indiana National Guard as a supply sergeant.
“I just love singing,” said Cunningham. She’s looking forward to Saturday’s competition performance. “I just think about getting on stage and doing my best.”
Michael Thomas also sang “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, but it was an entirely different performance. Dressed in bright red pants and a red plaid shirt, Thomas seized the stage giving a rendition true to the tune.
“I love your range, it’s crazy high. What a great, great talent,” said Pay.
Thomas, 27, grew up in Anderson, and now resides in Indianapolis where he attends Ivy Tech.
“I love music. I record and write a lot of music for all genres,” said Thomas. As comfortable as he was on stage, Thomas said, “I’ve grown up singing in the church, that’s really the biggest influence.”
The three semi-finalists will perform tomorrow night at Hoosier Park. It coincides with the 20th running of the Dan Patch Invitational race activities at the venue, complete with hot air balloon, fireworks, ziplining and more. The Idol All-In competition is set for 10:30 p.m. The second runner-up goes home with a $500 cash prize. First runner-up receives $1,000.
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