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Young singers wow judges at Houlton Northern Star event

HOULTON, Maine — A pair of singer-songwriters and a Houlton High School senior were the top performers to earn golden tickets to the regional Northern Star competition Sunday afternoon. 

Houlton’s competition featured just eight singers, with two contestants hailing from Caribou and two more from Mars Hill. In addition, a newly-created “Junior Northern Star Division,” for performers under the age of 12, did not draw any entries at the Houlton show.

Held at the Houlton Community Arts Center, the 14th annual Northern Star competition featured a wide variety of talent, but the vocal abilities of three contestants shone the brightest.

Sierra Rhoda, Nathan Cyr and Hannah Boone received their golden tickets and advanced to the regional competition to be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 25, at the Caribou Performing Arts Center.

Last year’s winner, Hope Chernesky, was unable to perform at any of the local competitions as the family moved to the southern part of the state. However, Chernesky, a talented violinist who formerly lived in Houlton, is expected to perform at the regional event in Caribou.

Sierra Rhoda was one of three finalists selected to move on during Houlton’s Northern Star performance Sunday afternoon. Rhoda sang the piece “How Can It Be?,” by Lauren Daigle. (Joseph Cyr)

Judges for the Houlton show were Tammy Goetsch, John Harvell and Addie Carter. By an audience consensus, Carter was selected as the local judge to advance to the regional competition.

Rhoda, 17, of Houlton, drew the opening slot and performed first Sunday. Rhoda sang a moving Christian-gospel piece titled, “How Can It Be?,” by Lauren Daigle, which the judges lauded.

“I commend you for singing praises in a public forum,” Carter said. “It was a beautiful song and you sang it well.”

Boone, 15, of Patten sang a self-penned tune, “Just Imagine,” as she also played guitar. Her skills impressed the judges.

“There was a real passion to your performance,” Harvell said. “You embody the style of that song and I applaud you for writing your own song.”

Cyr, 23, of Oakfield returned to the Northern Star stage for the first time in six years, when he was also a finalist. He too performed a self-written song titled, “Drinking Buddy,” and played guitar for the piece.

“I really love your voice,” Goetsch said. “It has that gravely feel to it. You have a real ability and talent. You did a great job.”

Other performers at the Houlton show were Mariah Brewer of Mars Hill, Lea Henderson of Linneus, Jillian Cote of Mars Hill, Libby Collier of Caribou and Chris Parent of Caribou.

From the Fort Kent show Friday evening, Jennifer Raymond of Eagle Lake, Cady Hebert of Fort Kent, Savanna Hanlin of St. Agatha advanced to the regional show, while Sadie Cairns, 11, of Fort Kent, was selected in the junior division.

Winners advancing from the Presque Isle show held Saturday were: Jana Nadeau, 14, of Fort Kent; Kevin Alexander Rivera, a Loring Job Corps Center student and Boston, Massachusetts native; and the “MoonDance Cloggers,” a collection of dancers ranging in age from 13 to 18. Advancing from the junior division were 10-year-old Jane Mautz and 11-year-old Fiona Wu, both of Mapleton and students of MoonDance studios in Presque Isle.

United Way of Aroostook Executive Director Sherry Locke informed the audience that for every dollar United Way of Aroostook raises from events like Northern Star or from donations, the non-profit organization spends 99 cents to directly benefit people living in The County.

Each year there have been changes to improve the show, which is one of the UWA’s largest fundraisers, according to Sherry Locke, executive director of the United Way of Aroostook. The talent show was originally titled “Aroostook Idol,” but then changed to “Northern Star” so it could include contestants from the New Brunswick side of the Maine/Canadian border.

Two years ago, the show adopted “United Way Saves,” which allowed a special committee to “save” up to three contestants to participate in the finale who were not chosen to go at their regional competitions, based on the support they received on the United Way’s Facebook page. Those lucky performers will be announced at a later date.

The vocal-only competition was also changed last year to allow any type of talent, which opened the door for instrumentalists and dancers.

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