Calling Julia Goodwin a prodigy is not an overstatement considering the level of talent the 15-year old displayed Friday night on stage at the Palladium. It’s an assessment shared by the judges when the Baldwinsville, New York native was chosen winner of the 2013 Great American Songbook High School Vocal Competition sponsored by the Feinstein Initiative headquartered at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
The soon-to-be sophomore at CW Baker High School sang “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and “Feeling Good” prior to being selected over nine other high school singers in finals that capped a five-day academy of workshops and master classes held at the Palladium. The competition, which is dedicated solely to the music from Broadway and Hollywood musicals and the Tin Pan Alley era, is the only one of its kind in the U.S.
Goodwin will receive $3,000 and the opportunity to perform with Michael Feinstein (Initiative founder and artistic director of the Center for the Performing Arts). She will also serve as the Great American Songbook Youth Ambassador for one year and will be given opportunities to perform during the same period.
Kyrie Courter, Chicago, Ill., who won second place, will receive $2000. Tied for third place were Sam Pomales, Springboro, Ohio, and Melinda Rodriguez, Miami, Fla. They both will receive $1500 toward continuing music education.
Other finalists included Brittany Bauerly, Dubuque, Iowa, Maya Jacobson, Clearwater, Fla., Brandon Ocasio, Astoria, N.Y., Emma Roos, San Francisco, Calif., Morgan Rose, Berkeley, Calif. and Grace Wipfli, Ottawa Hills, Ohio.
Judges and mentors for the competition included five-time Grammy® nominated Feinstein, five-time Grammy® award winner Sandi Patty, two-time Grammy® award winner Sylvia McNair, two-time Grammy® nominated Jane Monheit, Jim Caruso (host of “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party,” at Birdland Jazz Club in NYC) and Dr. Kathleen Hacker, Chair of the Music Department, Director of Vocal Studies and Associate Professor of Music at the University of Indianapolis.
The awards program hosted by Feinstein featured performances by all the judges (except for Patty who had to bow out at the last minute due to the impending birth of her first grandchild) and solo performances from the finalists who each contributed one song per act during the two part show. Also performing was 2012 Great American High School Songbook Vocal Competition winner Nick Ziobro. Accompanying the finalists and the judges were pianists Daryl Kojak and Gary Walters, Thomas Brinkley on bass and Gene Markiewica on drums.
In addition to the fresh-faced Goodwin’s poised performance of both her songs, with “Feeling Good” which earned her the loudest and most prolonged applause of any finalist during the entire evening — there were many stand out moments provided by the other contestants — all of whom possessed outstanding vocal instruments, appealing personalities and maturity beyond their years.
Second place winner Kyrie Courter who had no shortage of charisma, dazzled the crowd with the emotion-laden power and range of her voice when she sang “Taking a Chance on Love” and “I (Who Have Nothing).”
Melinda Rodriquez, one of the third place winners, showed her jazz prowess during her understated yet riveting performances of “Blue Skies” and “Autumn Leaves.”
Velvet-toned Sam Pomales, who shared third place with Rodriquez, showed potential for becoming a first-rate romantic crooner in “Fly Me to the Moon” and a gift for dramatic interpretation during his rendition of “The Summer Knows.”
Filling out the three hour (which dragged at times due to lengthy and sometimes awkward introductions) entertainment-packed show were the performances of the pros which included master showman Feinstein, who, accompanying himself on the piano performed “I Love a Piano.”
Jane Monheit who is celebrated as one of the finest jazz singers around, demonstrated her finesse in phrasing and interpretation with stunning results in “In the Still of the Night.”
Sylvia McNair who once primarily sang opera, but now sings standards with symphony orchestras, showed off her vocal expertise and superior interpretion skills in “Someday He’ll Come Along.”
Jim Caruso, a comedic performer in the style of Donald O’Connor sang “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” by Kander and Ebb — with updated lyrics (including a reference to Starbucks) that he said, during the song’s introduction, he co-wrote with Ebb.
Playing out like one of those quintessential show business legends was the performance of soprano Kathleen Hacker, who took over for Patty once the star became unavailable. While singing a medley from “The Sound of Music” with the finalists, Hacker not only commanded the stage — she owned it.
Nick Ziobro was the final entertainer on the bill. Having spent the last year performing with Feinstein in concerts around the country, and even singing with the late Marvin Hamlisch at his last concert, he looked and sounded like a seasoned pro — the new king of swing in “All of Me.” Filling time while the judges deliberated who the competition winner would be, Ziobro accompanied himself on the piano as he movingly performed his version of “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life.”
Once the winners were announced, it was impossible not to reflect on the amazing growth, evidenced by their performances, that had taken place among all the competitors between the finals and the previous two days of master classes that were attended by this writer.
Prior to Wednesday’s master classes Caruso conducted workshops with the high school vocalists; later that afternoon Feinstein and Sylvia McNair worked with them during a master class. On Thursday, both Caruso and Monheit served as mentors in workshops earlier in the day and later Patty joined Feinstein in teaching the singers in master classes.
During the master classes, both of which drew a hundred people or so, the finalists were instructed in matters pertaining to interpretation, performance and technique, such as enunciation, phrasing, pitch, physicality, breathing, and how to hold a mic
After Wednesday’s master class, Caruso said, “We are seeing the future. Everybody in New York says all the talent is in New York, but that’s not true. Everybody in New York came from somewhere else. Patty LuPone did not grow up on Broadway. She grew up somewhere far away. She was just a kid with a big voice. We are seeing that here — only tenfold.”
Following Thursday’s master class Monheit said, “I am just so happy it exists. The fact that Michael has taken all of his fame and respect and history in this business and…there’s no one like Michael…he is the greatest historian we have, in addition to being an absolutely brilliant musician, a gorgeous interpreter and a great performer. There is also that great mind and knowledge. The fact that he is applying all of that to this and actually bringing it to young people is the key to keeping the American Songbook alive. I am just happy and grateful to him for putting in all of this effort.”
The Feinstein Initiative announced that it will expand the competition to all 50 states within the next two years. Though the Palladium was full for this year’s edition of the finals, it’s easy to predict that as time goes by, tickets will be harder to obtain once word gets out about this extraordinary effort to preserve and promote one of this country’s most valuable assets: The Great American Songbook.
For more information about the Feinstein Initiative and The Center for the Performing Arts, visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.
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