Local singers vie to become next Westchester Teen Idol
GalleriesRandom Farms Kids' Theater in Elmsford
When 25 local teenagers compete in the Westchester Teen Idol competition at Irvington Town Hall Theater this Saturday, Harrison's Cayla Pettinato will show them how it's done.
Last year, when she was a 16-year-old senior at Harrison High School, Pettinato entered the contest for the first time. As the last of 25 finalists to perform, she wound up taking home the title with showstopping performances of "Don't Rain on My Parade" from the musical "Funny Girl" and "Gimme Gimme" from the musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
"I sat there, listening to all of the other people sing, and everyone was so talented," Pettinato said. "But I made it a goal of mine to try to make the top five [finalists], at least. And then I went out there and did my thing, and I was so excited [to win]."
It wasn't exactly her first time on stage. At Harrison High School, she performed in the chorus and in musicals. She also did community theater through Random Farms Kids' Theater, an Elmsford-based company whose productions are often staged at Tarrytown Music Hall.
Pettinato has already shown off her performance skills as a freshman at Stanford University. In addition to contributing to the Gaieties -- an annual arts exhibition that students write, produce and perform every fall -- she joined an R&B a cappella group, Everyday People. Over Thanksgiving break, she'll return to Westchester to appear at this year's competition, where she'll perform a medley from the musical "Anything Goes" while judges determine this year's winner.
Since she won't perform at the concert until this year's finalists do, she has some advance advice for those in it to win it.
"It's all about the showmanship," she said. "The thing that really set me apart from the other people was not that I had so much better of a voice, but that it's really all about performance."
For the seventh annual Westchester Teen Idol event, which returns to Irvington Town Hall Theater, about 125 teens auditioned at Yorktown Stage on Sept. 29 and Oct. 6. Pleasantville Musical Theatre Productions, which runs the event, then narrowed the field to 25 finalists, who will sing at least one song at Saturday's concert before judges determine a final five, who each perform a second song. In addition to the title and bragging rights, this year's champion will win $500, gift certificates, a voice lesson from Cortlandt School of Performing Arts, a photo session and two free tickets to a PMT show.
Ray Arrucci, president of PMT Productions, says this year's finalists are particularly impressive.
"Each year, these kids get better and better," he said. "And this year, these kids have really stepped up their game."
Although many of the 13- to 19-year-old singers hail from Westchester, Rockland and elsewhere in the Hudson Valley, some New Jersey and Connecticut teens are vying for the title as well. Of the 25 finalists competing, about 10 of them competed in last year's event, Arrucci said.
"But there are 15 brand-new ones, some of them 13-year-olds," he added. "And you'd just be amazed that a 13-year-old could even sing like that. It's amazing."
In an attempt to keep a level playing field, some teens are ineligible to compete. Direct relatives of PMT Productions and judges, previous winners, professionals, and singers with Actors' Equity cards or a recording contract aren't allowed to participate.
It's a wise move, as the Hudson Valley has become a breeding ground for singers on the rise -- especially on reality TV. Harriman native Jermaine Paul won the second season of "The Voice" in May, and Bedford resident Collin McLoughlin made it to the top 40 of that show this fall. In July, Nyack-based rock band The All Ways was one of 48 acts to make the season-seven quarterfinals of "America's Got Talent." And Mamaroneck's Carly Rose Sonenclar is a favorite to win the second season of "The X Factor," which concludes Dec. 20. (Oh, and don't look now, but the next season of "American Idol" is right around the corner.)
In the past, Westchester Teen Idol has called upon celebrity judges ranging from pop star and Ardsley native Jesse McCartney to Irvington resident and "The Magic Garden" star Carole Demas. As of press time, Arrucci could confirm that two Broadway veterans would be among the three judges for this year's competition: Rye Country Day School and Purchase College grad John Treacy Egan ("Sister Act," "The Producers" and "The Little Mermaid") and Mary Bracken Phillips ("Annie," "1776" and "Metro.")
Between the $40 audition fee and the $25 event tickets, Westchester Teen Idol serves as a fundraiser for the nonprofit PMT Productions, which stages this and other Hudson Valley shows throughout the year.
"I have a blast watching these kids perform," Arrucci said. "It's just a good way to give them a forum to actually perform, when a lot of the times, they don't have one. They don't have a place to do what they do best. And a lot of them just love to sing."
IF YOU GO
What: Westchester Teen Idol competition
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24; snow date 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25
Info: Irvington Town Hall Theater, 85 Main St., Irvington; 914-591-6602; www.irvingtontheater.com; $25
Finalists: This year's Westchester Teen Idol finalists are Brittany Bonamassa of Yorktown Heights; Danny Bronico of Bedford Hills; Allison Cane of Bronxville; Brooke Chaco of West Harrison; Christopher Cheeseman of Montvale, N.J.; E.J. Couloucoundis of Darien, Conn.; Julia DiMarzo of Poughkeepsie; Carina Florio of Pleasantville; Breigh Hammel of Pleasantville; Kristen Huttunen of Brewster; Dean Klebonas of Oceanside; Jinji Martine of Croton-on-Hudson; Kylie McDonald of Fishkill; Erynn Legna McLeod of White Plains; Heather Rose of Montrose; Sarah Rossman of Rye; Mikey Rubin of Chappaqua; Max Schoetz of Chappaqua; Jessyca Silva of Yonkers; Lauren Spatafore of Rye Brook; Rachel Stagg of West Harrison; Noel Tyminski of Tinton Falls, N.J.; Emily Ultan of Pleasantville; Rosie Veltri of Port Chester; and Elizabeth Vuksanaj of New Rochelle.