Seniors cut loose at Idol Finals

Rudy Fernandez said he felt both nervous and excited before his performance. (Photos by Mark Oltmanns)

Rudy Fernandez said he felt both nervous and excited before his performance. (Photos by Mark Oltmanns)

Friday night’s finals of the Second Annual Senior Idol competition at Memorial Auditorium got off to an ear-splitting start. “TOO LOUD,” shouted members of the audience as the hosts—Richard Lee and Maaika Westen—appeared on stage to blaring music. The soundman lowered the volume and the hosts apologized.

The hosts then welcomed the audience of about 100 people, who’d come to hear twelve finalists, all over 55, sing for the title of West County Senior Idol.

This was not ‘American Idol,’ the popular television show. There was no Simon Cowell, no Ryan Seacrest. This event was not about a celebrity panel of judges or hosts; it was about the contestants and their collective love of music.

Jackie Thompson, a fan of oldies, channeled Etta James to kick off the competition with a soulful performance of “At Last.” Asked by the hosts why she came to perform, she responded, “For one thing, I’m a senior, and I want to be somebody’s idol.”

The contestants performed country, jazz, pop, show tunes, and other kinds of music.

Nearly all the contestants showed signs of tension in the moments before their performances. Before getting on stage, Patricia Jackson paced in the waiting area and said she had forgotten the words to her song. But when her time came to perform, Jackson glided on stage and sang “The Greatest Love of All” with confidence and grace.

“It’s good to have a level of nervousness because it stimulates your emotions,” said Rudy Fernandez, looking up from under the brim of his black cowboy hat. Fernandez, dressed in a black tuxedo, sang “I Wonder Why” and showed off his nimble dance moves to a clapping audience.

One by one, the West County seniors performed their songs of choice in front of the enthusiastic crowd. When a singer struck a groove, as Clark ‘Esty’ Cochran did during his performance of Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” audience members clapped in time with the music and some stood up to dance in place.

John Cantrell came out from the Central Valley to support his mother, Barbara Cantrell, who performed “Teach Me Tonight.” When John arrived at the auditorium, he remembered going there years ago to see concerts as a young teen. “This is still a great venue right here,” he said. “They don’t make them like this anymore.”

At the night’s end, the 12 contestants quietly filed out on stage, smiling at the crowd as they waited for the judges to announce the two winners.

Esty Cochran (left) and Senior Idol winner Cindy Beitmen (right) savor the audience's applause.

Judges awarded first place to Cindy Beitmen for her powerful rendition of “The Sound of Music.” She won a $50 Target gift certificate and two bottles of Zucca’s wine.

Margaret Perry won second place and a dinner for four at the Hometown Buffet for her lively performance of “Kansas City.”

Kris Lofthus, a judge and co-organizer of the event, was pleased with the turnout for this year’s contest. “Audience participation was much improved,” he said. “We’re happy with it. It went very well.”

Beitmen said she wished that everyone could have won. “They all worked hard at it, they all love singing,” she said. “Last week they all talked about how much they love this competition.” She thanked Debbie Hernandez, from Richmond’s Recreation Department, for organizing the event. “Richmond is the best city in the world,” Beitmen said. “I really love the auditorium, it’s a great place to perform and I hope we have more going on here in the future.”

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