'Star' rising?

Singers can showcase talent and support cause

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Jeff Hutchison is no Simon Cowell, but he’s not trying to be.

What Hutchison is trying to do is find talent and rebuild homes. He’s hoping the former will help him with the latter.

Rising Star of Tennessee is a three-week vocal talent competition sponsored by Patch Ministries to raise funds to support the group’s efforts to eliminate unsafe and unsanitary housing in Blount County.

Hutchison, Patch Ministries’ founder, said the group could spend between $60,000 and $80,000 annually to help renovate substandard housing in Blount County, but the group only brings in about $20,000 a year through grants, monthly donations and fundraisers. Hutchison and other members of the group’s board were searching for ideas for a fund raiser.

"With the American Idol craze that everybody is into, that’s such a hot show. We said, what if we did a voice and singing
competition similar to American Idol but on a regional scale?" Hutchison said. "Now it has snowballed, and we’ve got a prize package over $2,000 in value."

The prize package continues to grow. It now includes sound time in a studio at RiverSound Production; a photo session with five 8x10 head shots from Images Coterie of Maryville (formerly Cameras and Images); a complete make-over from Cranberry Day Spa; teeth whitening from Dr. Russell Hulse; a management/consultation session and a performance opportunity at Grounded Coffee and More.

Hutchison said the competition is open to contestants of any age and any type of music. "It’s more about the voice than it is about image. American Idol is about image. This is just about the voice," he said.

Hutchison said the event could be the springboard for someone’s future fame. "This could be the thing that gets the winner or five finalists noticed by someone or maybe discovered," he said.

"There are a lot of people out there who just want to sing, but there’s nowhere to sing accept karaoke. This is going to be more of a professional feel with, we hope, an audience of 400, rather than 20 people in a bar," he said. "Someone could be discovered and go onto to do some pretty cool things."

The process is as follows: The would-be star makes a CD or cassette of them singing and submits it to the contest with a $25 entry fee. Applications are available at the Patch website: Patchministries.org. Applications can also be requested and sent through the mail, Jeff said.

The contestant sends the application, CD or cassette and photo of themselves to the Patch Ministries office.

"I take the CD, put number on it, put everything with a file. The judges don’t know who is on the CD. You’re just a number.

No one knows who you are," he said.

The CDs then go to five anonymous judges. All five judges independently rate the voices for each CD on a scale of 1 to 10. "We’ll take all the scorecards, and the top 20 contestants perform live first night of the competition," he said.

Hutchison said that at the first week’s competition on May 26, all 20 perform, and the celebrity judges vote and the audience also gets to vote. "Every audience member with a paid ticket gets a ballot. They get to vote for their top three," he said. "We’ll take all the scores that night and pare the group of 20 down to 10 for the next week."

At the next week’s competition on June 2, the 10 contestants will perform. Judges and the audience will then pare the 10 down to five. The third week of the competition on June 9 will be the finals where five contestants will perform.

The judges for each week will be different. "We want them to be different each week. That way they can’t show favoritism. I want it to be as fair as possible," said Hutchison.

To keep the audience members fair, each audience ballot must have the names of the top three. Anyone putting one name for all three slots will have their ballot disqualified.

"By each ballot having three votes, we can try to keep it fair and keep the field as level as possible," Hutchison said.

Hutchison is confident the fundraiser will become an annual event. The event could also help provide or improve housing for low income families in Blount County. "If this takes off, we could raise $15,000. I could serve 40 to 60 families with
$15,000," Hutchison said. "It could be huge. It’s one of those things that could grow bigger and bigger every year."

For more information, log onto patchministries.org or call the Patch Ministries office at 865-681-0583.

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