Young talent shines at PI Northern Star competition
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The second night of the 13th annual United Way of Aroostook Northern Star competition shined a spotlight on the many talents to be found in The County on Saturday, March 10.
This year the Northern Star regional shows, which serve as fundraisers for United Way, were held in Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Houlton.
During Saturday’s show 14 competitors, ranging from singers to dancers to musicians, gave heartfelt performances and impressed both audience members and judges at Presque Isle Middle School Auditorium.
A junior dancing duo, a clogging ensemble, a singer and a piano player were chosen as the finalists to move on to the finale.
The evening began with the only junior competitors for the Presque Isle regional show, 10-year-old Jane Mautz and 11-year-old Fiona Wu, both of Mapleton and students of MoonDance studios in Presque Isle, performing a lyrical dance to the song “Riverside” by Agnes Obel. This year Northern Star added a junior division for children under 12 years old. Mautz and Wu automatically earned a spot in the finale.
The two girls, dressed in sparkly pink dresses, wowed the panel of local celebrity judges — former Aroostook County Deputy Sheriff Jerry Joles, Townsquare Media’s Sarah Ennis and Director of Catholic Charities Dixie Shaw — with their slow, graceful movements that relied much on their timing and rhythm as a duo.
“Both of you are beautiful and your timing together was so good. I hope this encourages more junior performers to sign up next year,” Joles said.
Fourteen-year-old Jana Nadeau of Fort Kent travelled to the regional show in Presque Isle because she had been unable to perform in the Fort Kent competition. Before Nadeau began singing, a few young voices from the audience shouted, “Go, Jana,” as they cheered on their friend. She then burst into a rousing ukulele version of Vance Joy’s “Riptide” that had the judges smiling throughout.
“Looks like you brought a fan club out there,” WAGM-TV’s Katie Zarrilli, one of the evening’s co-hosts, remarked to Nadeau after a loud applause from the audience quieted. “How long have you played the ukulele?”
“A few months now,” said Nadeau, who also has performed in UMFK’s summer theater program for the past few years.
The judges were impressed with Nadeau’s quick ability to learn an instrument and praised her performance.
“Playing the ukulele is on my bucket list, so I was so excited when I saw you coming out with one,” Shaw said. “Your voice is a perfect match for that instrument. I could listen to you all day.”
Nadeau became the first of two performers to be chosen by the audience to advance to the March 25 finale. The second audience pick was the MoonDance Cloggers, a group of nine dancers from MoonDance Studios ranging in age from 13 to 18. The girls brought down the house with their fast-paced clogging to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and the judges, who viewed the performance from the audience, had only great things to say.
“You are an incredibly talented group of girls. I loved it,” Ennis said.
“Clogging is another thing on my bucket list. I tried to sign up once, but my age was too high and the risk was too high for my insurance to cover,” Shaw said, matter-of-factly. Her comments drew laughter from the audience all the way to the back rows of the auditorium.
Later in the show, audience members selected Shaw as the judge to represent Central Aroostook in the Northern Star finale. She will join Fort Kent judge Doug Giroux and Houlton judge Addie Carter.
The judges were able to choose the last contestant to advance to the finale. Their pick was Kevin Alexander Rivera, a 20-year-old Loring Job Corps Center student and Boston, Massachusetts native, who wowed everyone with a beautiful piano tune that he composed, “Delilah, Goddess of Divinity.”
“That was amazing. It’s incredible that you composed that song yourself,” Ennis said. “I’m speechless.”
“I have one word. ‘Wow,’” Joles said.
Co-hosts Zarrilli and Jason Parent reminded the crowd, as the judges deliberated across the hall, that one or more contestants from the Presque Isle show might still have a chance to compete in the finale. Thanks to the new wildcard pick, or “United Way Save,” officials from United Way could pick their favorites from each regional performance who were not part of the initial 12 finalists.
The audience also viewed a video from United Way that showcased several of the organization’s programs that have positively impacted folks in Aroostook County such as Meals on Wheels for senior citizens, the successful fundraising for and completion of a new playground for Fort Kent Elementary School and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which provides one free book a month to children and their families.
“I’ve been involved with United Way for the past two decades and I can say that there’s no other organization like it,” Parent said. “They’re formed so many partnerships with other organizations, all to benefit people in Aroostook County.”
Mautz, Wu, Nadeau, Rivera and the MoonDance Cloggers will join the finalists from Fort Kent and Houlton in the Sunday, March 25, Northern Star All-Talent Finale at the Caribou Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m.
The night before the Presque Isle show saw four singers — Jennifer Raymond of Eagle Lake, Cady Hebert of Fort Kent, Savanna Hanlin of St. Agatha, and Sadie Cairns of Fort Kent, claim spots as finalists at the University of Maine at Fort Kent Fox Auditorium.
Singers Sierra Rhoda, Nathan Cyr and Hannah Boone received their golden tickets to the Caribou finale at the Houlton competition on Sunday.