Fifty years separated the songs that not only showcased her diversity but ultimately secured her the title as the first Montco Idol.
Francesca Venezia initially won the ears and hearts of audiences everywere when she submitted a powerful yet measured take on blues icon Etta James’ 1962 classic “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” at the kickoff of the Montco Idol contest early this spring.
Flash forward half a century in the 16-year-old’s eclectic songbook and she’s enthralling the Norristown Arts Hill Festival crowd with her soulful rendition of Alicia Key’s 2012 opus, “Girl On Fire” last Saturday.
Venezia’s performance no doubt nailed her a slew of votes that day and thereafter, as the voting process continued online, where a video of the performance was featured at http://bit.ly/Zw98Zo.
Venezia, a Fairview Village resident and Methacton High School junior, snagged the Montco Idol title through a complex merger of fans’ votes and the opinions of three elite judges:
Norristown native and singer Alaina Nelson, Ron DiSilvestro of Forge Recording and Edwina French, founder of Community Music School in Trappe.
In a submitted bio, Venezia had hailed Carrie Underwood and Imagine Dragons as a few of her favorite artists and noted that it was her “dream to be a successful singer-songwriter. My dad’s family has a long history in the Norristown area and it would be awesome for me to be able to have them see me perform. This would be a great experience for maybe auditioning for ‘American Idol’ in the future.”
Her Montco Idol victory landed her the chance to record a professionally rendered demo at Forge Recording in Oreland — part of a prize package valued at $1,000 — and also a concert of her own at Sam Ash Music in King of Prussia.
Runner-up Kara E. Koser of Norristown will receive a prize package valued $500 gift card, and a prize package valued at $250 will go to third-place winner Jacki Cooper of Spring City.
“We’re very happy to have been the sponsors of the American Idol contest,” said Times Herald editor Stan Huskey, who noted that the contest was modeled after the long-running “American Idol” competition.
Introducing the Montco Idol performance segment into the annual outdoor gala greatly boosted attendance, he added.
“It turned out to be an incredible day at the Norristown Arts Hill Festival. The attendance was unbelievable … at one point I was standing down by the Centre Theater and I’m looking up the hill and I couldn’t even see asphalt. It was just a sea of people. The three contestants were all amazing. We couldn’t be happier with their performances. The crowd loved them all.”
The number of votes the contest amassed, starting with the original 38 contenders who the judges whittled down to an even dozen, was amazing, Huskey said.
“When we got down to the top 12 we had more than 5,000 votes online alone and almost 1,000 in print ballots.”
When it came down to the final three, the votes soared to more than 6,000 online and about 2,000 in print.
In the end, the contest drew about 15,000 votes in combined formats.
“We had more than 1,000 comments online when we got down to the final three,” Huskey said. “It was a huge success. We thank Forge Recording and all the other folks who helped out. We’re already looking forward to next year — that’s how exciting it was and how well received it was.”
All three finalists have musically wondrous futures ahead of them, predicted Montco Idol organizer Mike Weekley.
“You can tell that each of them has the talent to take the next step. It’s a crowning achievement to be named the top three and eventually the winner, but you can tell that each of them is destined for greatness. All three have the voice and, the way they convey themselves, the drive.”
Follow Gary Puleo on Twitter @ Mustangman48.
Story by Gary Puleo, email@example.com