Better the stardom you know

On Saturday, five local singers will sing their hearts out in one last-ditch effort to become the very first winner of the Carolina Star contest. For those who have made it through each week’s harrowing elimination process, the tension only continues to grow. And yet, for all the pressure on those who would be the first Carolina Star, few people outside of the contest seem to even know it exists. If you aren’t watching channel 13, WLOS, at around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday evenings, you probably haven’t.

In a nutshell, Carolina Star is pretty much a local version of American Idol, and as a result the format is strikingly familiar. There are three “celeb” judges: producer/sponsor Kevin Geagan plays the middle-of-the-road judge; local DJ Mark Andrews acts as something of a soft-edged Simon Cowell; and Heidi Daugherty (wife of former NBA player Brad Daugherty) serves as the giddy and forgiving foil. The trio have waded through the vocal stylings of hundreds of would-be professional singers, all performing songs from themed rounds (such as “Classic Rock”) as backed by the Crocodile Smile house band. Each week, contestants sing their hearts out on the Orange Peel’s stage, with the judges and audience then given the challenging task of slowly narrowing the list to handful of possible winners.

The contestants are vying for a $10,000 grand prize, as well as a recording contract (the details of which, according to the show’s producers, are still a little unclear). Winners are decided by a combination of judge scores and audience votes, with the combined results of the audience counting essentially as a fourth judge. (Interestingly, the last round of Carolina Star was so close that it had to be decided solely on audience votes.)

Saturday’s show is the final round, and should air on June 23. The actual winner of Carolina Star won’t be announced until the airing of the final episode on June 30. According to producer/judge Kevin Geagan, at least part of this broadcast will be live.

Since Xpress is a little behind on the coverage, here’s the rundown on the finalists.

Heather Landreth: This 31-year-old nurse from Asheville has a powerful voice, but seems a little lacking in the confidence department. Then again, the judges keep implying that she’s probably going to win, so chances are good that she will. She appears to be a definite crowd favorite as well. Odds: 2 to 1.

David Manas: What this 28-year-old construction worker lacks in vocal range, he attempts to compensate for in gimmickry and performance style. During his one-man cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he donned pink pants, a mesh shirt and a cape. After grinding away on the mic stand (to the seeming excitement of the crowd), he gave his cape to a developmentally disabled child on stage. The crowd and the judges ate it up. Odds: 3 to 1.

Nikki Talley: Already a noted singer/songwriter in the area, 29-year-old Talley is something of an unlikely competitor. She’s almost too comfortable on stage, and she’s one of the rare performers who appears how to know how to own a song, rather than just turn in a predictable, if solid, rendition. That said, the crowd doesn’t appear to agree. Talley was very nearly voted off the show in the last round. Odds: 4 to 1.

Kenny Cheek: Currently attending Mars Hill College as a music major, 21-year-old Cheek is something of a mystery. He lacks the genre-spanning abilities of some of the other contestants, and seems remarkably uncomfortable during his performances. Then again, his training certainly shows, and he has regularly taken on pieces far more challenging than the other singers. Cheek is also the only remaining African-American performer remaining in the competition. Odds: 8 to 1.

Michael Morgan: Although he seems to be one of the least dynamic performers in the final round, 33-year-old Brevard resident Morgan is hard to count out. What he lacks in personal magnetism, he makes up for in an almost eerie ability to mimic specific singers. His performance of the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” made it seem like he was almost lip-synching to the Michael McDonald, hidden somewhere backstage. The crowd likes him fine, the judges like him well enough, and there’s nothing really wrong with his singing apart from the fact that it seems more fitting to a sound-alike contest than a search for a real Star. Odds: 10 to 1.

So, now that you’ve got the rundown, tell us what you think. Will you be there when the doors of the Orange Peel open at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 16? Will you pay $9 to see the big finale? Do you have an opinion on who should win? Let us know by typing your thoughts into the comment box below.

— Steve Shanafelt

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