The inaugural Southwest Orlando Idol judges are (l. to r.) Karen Whitham of Bay Hill, Michael Cochran and Jeff Farley of Southwest, and Clay Kearney of South Bay.
Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, David Cook, Scotty McCreery — all are winners of the hit TV show American Idol, which just earned its 300th No. 1 single with McCreery’s finale anthem, I Love You This Big.
However, few may know that these chart-topping singers have something else in common. Prior to being judged by the brutally honest Simon Cowell, they all performed in local singing competitions in their hometowns, sometimes taking the top prize and sometimes graciously accepting a runner-up ribbon.
Every aspiring singer must start somewhere. And for 30 Southwest Orlando residents, their Idol journeys did not begin with Ryan Seacrest and a golden ticket to Hollywood, but rather with a first-time hostess and the inaugural Southwest Orlando Idol competition, sponsored by the Southwest Orlando Bulletin.
Before contestants could be selected, a panel of judges had to be established. Through a fortuitous string of events, Bay Hill resident and renowned vocal coach Karen Whitham and Southwest resident and highly successful producer Michael Cochran came onboard as the first two judges. Soon, well-known veteran entertainer and performance coach Jeff Farley of Southwest joined the project; and Clay Kearney of South Bay, publisher and CEO of the Southwest Orlando Bulletin, rounded out the distinguished group.
Stoneybrook West resident Diana Mainieri is the hostess of Southwest Orlando Idol.
Stoneybrook West resident Diana Mainieri, assistant editor of the Southwest Orlando Bulletin and coordinator for the competition, was tapped as hostess. Mainieri was instrumental in the success of the event from conception to the announcement of the winners. Pulling upon her communication skills and performance experience, she was the natural choice to spearhead this event. A 1999 graduate of Dr. Phillips High School’s Visual & Performing Arts theater magnet program, Mainieri later earned her bachelor’s in mass communication, with a concentration in broadcast, print and online journalism, from Florida Southern College.
“I was amazed at how comfortable Diana was onstage,” Kearney said. “It was obvious to me and the audience that she is a born performer in her own right.”
During the finale, Mainieri surprised the standing-room-only crowd by singing the duet Does He Love You with guest performer, Shyandra Spencer.
Each week, 14-year-old Spencer wowed the packed venue with her phenomenal voice, singing hit songs like I Will Always Love You, Best Thing I Never Had, Someone Like You and more. The dynamic performer has an incredibly impressive résumé, having won numerous competitions, including Central Florida Has Talent, Kids Got Talent, East Orlando’s Got Talent, and Seminole’s Got Talent. She is currently recording her first album.
Southwest Orlando Idol guest performer Shyandra Spencer is recording her first album.
For the contestants, the first stage of the competition involved video and MP3 auditions that were submitted via email and www.YouTube.com on the Web. Live auditions also were held at Cariera’s Cucina Italiana in The Marketplace at Dr. Phillips, which would serve as the host venue for the competition.
The contestants were narrowed down to the top 30 singers, who were then divided into three groups, and the live performances began. Each Tuesday for three weeks, the singers competed against each other for a place in the Aug. 23 finale, with only the highest-scoring performers from each week advancing to the finals.
By week four, the 30 contestants had been pared down to the top 12, who faced off for the win.
At the conclusion of the two-hour show, and after a lengthy and difficult deliberation session between the four judges, the top five singers were announced, including the inaugural Southwest Orlando Idol. Congratulations to the top five finishers in this year’s competition:
More Southwest Orlando Idol Crowned
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