Sticky business

Ever since American Idol first infiltrated our TV sets back in 2002, most of us — or at least way more of us than would readily admit it — have come under the spell of those would-be chart-topping crooners.

In the four years since Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Carrie Underwood were crowned champions of the reality (reality being used loosely here) show, Idol fever has swept the world. Aside from spin-off competitions in such unlikely locales as Singapore, South Africa and Norway (it was Norwegian singer Kurt Nilson who went on to be named World Idol — and then apparently vanished from the spotlight altogether), Idol wannabes are also lining up to prove their prowess in the non-singing arenas.

No talent, it seems, is too small to strut. Here’s a brief list of existing national contests that would, no doubt, make sardonic Brit judge Simon Cowell cringe: Mascot Idol, Poetry Idol, Angling Idol, Plankwalker Idol, Scraps Ahoy (scrapbooking) Idol, Masonic (yep, as in the secret society) Idol, and Crossword Idol.

And, of course, there’s no shortage of small-time competitions held by various festivals and fairs. Case in point: Black Mountain’s annual Sourwood Festival, traditionally a celebration of the sourwood-honey harvest, will offer more this year than just sweet family fun.

Finding that show-stealing song

“For several years, we’d had a talent contest on Friday night to kick off the festival,” recalls Black Mountain Chamber of Commerce Director Bob McMurray. “This year, we’ve spiced it up. We got ideas from the TV show, of course.”

It’s festival committee member Betty Summey, a self-proclaimed American Idol fan, who’s credited with bringing Sourwood Idol to the table. But, unlike the televised version, the local competition sets no age limit. Forget Cowell’s nasty simper — “You just don’t look like an idol” (read: extra pounds, last year’s fashions and noticeable lack of hair gel) — the Sourwood contestants range from age 14 to 65, and will likely sport hip-huggers, crows’ feet and everything in between. (Accordingly, the contest is being partly sponsored by local oldies station 96.5-FM.)

There is, however, a moratorium on how many songs can be performed: Hopefuls have to nail the judge’s vote in one selection. And they must be solo acts, though instrumental accompaniment is fine.

“Three judges will give points from 4 to 10, like Dancing With the Stars,” Summey explains, referencing another of this season’s popular reality-TV offerings. That means the highest number of points a singer can win is 30. The judges levying these numbers include local songwriter and producer Paula Caulder, musician and open mic host David Cody and Town Pump Tavern owner Dan Johnston.

But would-be Idol Diana French isn’t worried about scoring. “Win, don’t win — I don’t care about that stuff,” she insists. “I’d like to see more locals get involved, and I thought maybe if I jump in, they will too.”

French, who owns Howard’s Antiques and Vintage Emporium, is more into having fun and raising a little interest in her line of work. Don’t expect any Paula Abdul-inspired dance moves from this amateur.

“I’ll be dressed in vintage attire and I’ll do an a capella song,” she reveals. The performer will alsocraft a story that goes along with her vocal number.

Seacrest-free zone

Singer/songwriter Richard Sackett is also in it for the novelty rather than the fame — a concept at distinct variance with the aims of pop-chart darlings Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia Barrino.

Still, he isn’t above tailoring his song selection to the event: Sackett will perform a tune he once wrote, auspiciously enough, about Black Mountain. “[It’s] called ‘Sourwood Town,'” he says. “I thought [the festival] might be a place to share that with people. The contest [aspect] wasn’t all that important.”

Of course, trophies and cash prizes are nothing to sniff at. First place takes home $400, second place wins $300 and third place receives $200.

“I’ve heard the [American] Idol reference,” the songwriter continues. “But I’m not into that sort of thing.”

Yeah, that’s what Idol 2005 runner-up Bo Bice said before he lost a bet to his mom and was forced (oh, the humanity) to enter the American Idol tryouts. Which he aced, singing “Whipping Post,” unaccompanied.

Sackett, like Bice, just wants to keep it real. “I’ve lived in Black Mountain for 25 years,” he says, “and I’ve enjoyed it.” The musician also works at Copestone, where he includes music in his therapeutic treatments. “I write songs related to things here, and all sorts of things in life.”

So Sackett and French are banking on the warm-fuzzy down-home performance (hey, it worked for North Carolinian Clay Aiken, who made his flat-footed way to the runner-up position in Idol‘s second season). But other contestants are probably hoping for a little fame to go with that $400 fortune.

“This would give [the winner] publicity for sure,” says McMurray. “They might go on and try other national competitions.” In fact, some Sourwood Idol hopefuls have already taken a stab at the American Idol tryouts. “They didn’t make it,” he says. Evidentemente. “So now they’re trying ours.”

The 96.5-FM Sourwood Festival Idol Contest kicks off the 28th Annual Sourwood Festival at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 12. The free, non-alcoholic street festival — including crafts, live music and honey-and-food vendors — runs through Sunday, Aug. 14 in downtown Black Mountain. For more information, call 669-2300.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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