Saturday, March 25, 2006


Albany Star contest winners Tina Brock of Bainbridge and Alex Clements surround K-Country's Dottie Davis and display their winning smiles

Tina Brock's dozens of enthusiastic fans helped put her over the top

Fans and family of Leesburg's Jennifer Cutchens showed their love

Assistant Principal Tim Cochran took time out from his duties to serenade his fans- many of them female teachers

Jennifer Cutchens goes Dolly one better with her rendition of "Jolene"

(This column will appear March 30, 2006 in THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

The noise was literally deafening (my ears are still ringing!). Several hundred relatives, friends, and fans of the 19 contestants in the first Albany Star contest nearly raised the roof as they awaited the moment of truth on March 23rd at the newly renovated State Theater on Pine Avenue. By 10:00 P.M., when the two winners- one female, one male- were finally announced by Kurt Baker of B-100 and Dottie Davis of K-Country, the moment capped off three hours of rock em sock em entertainment which, at five bucks a head, was the best entertainment buy in town.

Tina Brock and Alex Clements won the women’s and men’s vocalist honors, respectively, but the judges took over twenty minutes to choose because the talent level among the contestants was so high and so evenly matched. The two winners will each have the opportunity to do a 15 minute opening act for the March 30th George Jones concert at the Civic Center.

B-100 and K Country, which co-promoted the contest, received hundreds of CD’s and tapes from aspiring singers vying to win Albany’s version of the American Idol contest. They winnowed down the entries to 20 finalists- 10 male, 10 female. The Star contest was short one male vocalist, but only because he had just signed a record deal and flown to Europe to cut his CD. As both Baker and Davis noted, any one of the 19 who performed would have been a more than capable choice.

They came from all over. Bainbridge, Moultrie, Ochlochnee, Eufala. A male contestant drove down from Nashville. From young aspiring stars to elder statesmen (the sixtyish man who sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” was a dead ringer for Glen Campbell, as Dottie Davis duly noted) they competed on stage, one song each.

With names like Lamar, Rhett, and Lance, wearing cowboy boots and cowboy hats, several of the male contestants were the epitome of the stereotypical country music singer. That old timey image was in sharp contrast to the conversation I overheard after the contest, as one big hatted male contestant told a female admirer to “check out my website, but be patient, because it’s still under construction.”

A personal note here: I’ve never been a fan of country music. In high school and college, my taste ran to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cream, the Doors, and other classic rock legends. In fact, my visceral reaction to country was something akin to the Martian invaders in Tim Burton’s campy movie, “Mars Attacks.” When all other earthly weapons failed to defeat the invaders, a teenage boy accidentally discovered that playing a Slim Whitman song would turn the Martians’ brains to jelly and make their heads explode.

My first exposure to country came as a freshman at Penn when one of my three roommates, who hailed from Casper, Wyoming, would sadistically inflict country songs from a local radio station on us rock and roll fans. I was astonished that any radio station in Philadelphia would even consider playing such hideous noise. I used to think that an effective interrogation tool for jihadists would be to play country songs until they caved. When making a long distance car trip, if my car radio picked up a country station on SCAN, I couldn’t change the channel fast enough.

But recently, after some friends dragged me out to Gumbees, a popular Albany night spot featuring poker tournaments and Karaoke, I discovered that the live version isn’t so awful. In fact, some of the songs’ melodies are downright beautiful. (I still can’t get one contestant’s version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” out of my head, and it’s three days later as I write this).

The Albany Star finalists were an eclectic group. The first female singer of the night, Kristen Worth, has a baby due in August. Fiftyish former Marine Lamar Harris was living out his dying wife’s wish that he perform his original song on stage. Cowboy hatted and booted Tim Cochran is an assistant principal-- and his enthusiastic fans appeared to include all of the female teachers from his school.

The promoters put out the word that the entrants would be judged not just on singing ability, but also on stage presence and the amount of fan support they brought to the theater. By that measure, Tina Brock, who must have bussed in a hundred fans from her hometown of Bainbridge, clearly was deserving of her title. But truth to tell, the purest voices and most haunting melodies came from several contestants who didn’t have Vegas style theatrics on stage (one male contestant appeared to be channeling Elvis; later, a member of the audience was heard to mutter “get her a pole” when one female contestant performed a near bump and grind; another contestant’s very short denim miniskirt prompted some female audience members to audibly express their hope that she was wearing underpants).

The professional quality and performing experience of every contestant was obvious, and I suspect that the Civic Center could just have easily told George Jones to stay home, put up all 19 finalists on March 30th, and had a show as good as anything Albany has ever seen. Kudos to Liz Gray, marketing exec at B-100, Sandy Farkas and Lane Rosen, who have remade the State Theater, and everyone else responsible for the event. Let’s hope the “Albany Star” becomes a regular contest featuring other music genres as well-- you might even get me to start listening to Rap!

For other photos from the contest, visit K-Country’s website at


Post a Comment

<< Home