03/04/12 — Eastern Wayne Middle School 'Idol' finals Monday

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Eastern Wayne Middle School 'Idol' finals Monday

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 4, 2012 1:50 AM

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Breanna Lester performs a dance routine during callback auditions Wednesday at Eastern Wayne Middle School for "Warrior Idol" She and Alston Turner were one of three dance acts auditioning and made it to the final round.

Some have been singing and dancing since they could talk and walk.

A group of sixth-graders "just started singing together" when they discovered their voices blended well.

Another played guitar and performed as an opening act at a winery during the summer.

Every contestant has a story. And a dream.

So "Warrior Idol," patterned after "American Idol," is their chance at fame, even if it is only in Wayne County.

The annual Eastern Wayne Middle School event was developed a few years ago as a fundraiser for American Red Cross.

It started off as part of "Pennies for a Purpose" to collect money and to raise awareness, said Paige Nunn, counselor at the school.

"Eastern Wayne's always been big in Red Cross," she said. "From teachers contributing money to wear blue jeans on Friday to kids contributing pennies in the jars."

"Idol is like our kickoff for the whole month of March," added Cathy Eubanks, principal. "Last year, we raised $3,700 for the whole month."

That amount came from ticket sales as well as other donations.

Warrior Idol has grown in popularity and is now one of the school's trademarks.

"The kids look forward to it every year," Ms. Eubanks said. "Whenever I go talk to (incoming) fifth-grades, it's one of the things they talk about."

It also helps promote the Red Cross, providing a teachable moment among the student body.

"We're more than a school. We do things for the community. Our school is big on Red Cross," Ms. Eubanks said. "I have Chuck Waller (Red Cross executive director) talk to them about the purpose of what the money is going toward."

"And the values that it teaches kids for giving," Ms. Nunn said. "We have had kids this year that have benefitted from Red Cross who had house fires and have had one-on-one experience with (loss)."

Similar to the TV show version, auditions and callbacks are held before the pool is whittled down to those who perform and compete for the title and prizes -- typically gift cards of $100, $50 and $25.

Students get two and one-half minutes for the audition.

"They do take it seriously," Ms. Eubanks said. "Even the ones that don't win it, I think it builds their confidence because they get up before their peers."

This year, 20 turned out to audition, Ms. Nunn said.

Unlike the TV show, Warrior Idol allows individual acts as well as duos and groups, and is not limited to singing. Dancers and musicians are also welcome.

Callbacks were held this past week, with the field narrowed down to 10, and then cut down further in anticipation of Monday's event.

As they awaited their turn for the second round of competition, students calmed their nerves and mentally prepared to face the judges.

Sixth-graders Channing Williams, Ki'Ayla Foye, Ashawti Royal and Erica Hobbs, calling themselves "Joyful Noise," have been friends a while, they said.

"We just wanted to have fun," Channing said. "At first, we were all just singing. We found that we all had beautiful voices."

"We just started singing together," Erica said.

Breanna Lester, a seventh-grader, and Alston Tyndall, a sixth-grader, knew each other from dance classes.

"I have taken for about nine years, everything except pointe," Breanna said.

The duo worked up a jazz routine for the contest, they said.

Sixth-grader McKenzie Sollars, who sings and plays guitar, chose "Don't Know Why" by Norah Jones to perform.

"I have been playing guitar for about two years," she said. "I sing at a winery during the summer. I don't do it for money. I do it just for fun."

Savannah Shoemake, a sixth-grader, has always enjoyed singing.

"My dad likes to sing," she said. "When I was little, I would always sing along with him."

She has also worked with a vocal coach, she said, and feels she has progressed a lot over the past year, prompting her to enter the school contest.

"I remember at the beginning of the school year, all the older kids were talking about Warrior Idol," she said. "I thought it would be very unique and different."

For eighth-grader Jamesya Winn, who planned to sing "Lean On Me," it was about timing.

"I wanted to be in it in sixth grade and seventh grade, but I got scared," she said. "I wanted to do it (now) because I'm getting ready to leave school."

El-Fatih Chase, an eighth-grader, was a contestant last year.

"I performed a song called, 'I Love You, Lord' and I had fun," he said. "I didn't win, but I did have fun. This year I'm going to try again to have fun and help out the Red Cross."

He said often, in choruses and choirs at church and school. But that doesn't make Warrior Idol any less daunting.

"It's a heart-pounder because you have all these students, they're watching you," he said.

"You're scaring us," said Austen Lewis, a sixth-grader prepared to sing, "The Greatest Love of All."

"It's actually a great experience, because you see everybody's talent," El-Fatih said. "It's just like very fun and at the end when they do the competition stuff, who wins, it's very heart-pounding."

Shakur Brewington, a sixth-grader whose talent is dancing, says her accompaniment song, "Pick 'Em Up" reflects the Red Cross mission.

"Because if someone falls or is weak, you might want to walk around and pick them up," she explained.

Keagan Kermode, a seventh-grader new to the school this year, was enlisted by a teacher to audition.

"I have been dancing for six years, taking classes," he said. "I wasn't going to participate in the beginning but Mr. (Kenneth) Morris said that they needed more dancers. I thought it would be a good experience."

The seven finalists chosen to perform Monday at 1:30 p.m. include the Joyful Noise group, Savannah Shoemake, Breanna Lester and Alston Tyndall, Austen Lewis, Keagan Kermode, Shakur Brewington and El-Fatih Chase.

The event is open to the public. Admission is $2.