The air was filled with excitement and anticipation last Saturday during the inaugural StarQuest singing competition held at the 7th annual ‘Taste of Soul’ Family Festival where 24 semi-finalists emoted, wailed, and shouted to the delight of several hundred spectators.
During the competition, StarQuest judges were faced with whittling the group of hopefuls down to two finalists to perform before several thousand fans at the 94.7 Wave and 102.3 Radio Free KJLH stages, respectively.
The weather was cool and mild, but competition was hot and wild as contestants aimed to put their best act on display.
Kicking off the competition was twelve-year old Solomon, who movingly sang “The Greatest Love of All” as a tribute to his idol, the late Whitney Houston.
Solomon beamed with obvious delight as he left the stage to thunderous applause. “Whether I win or lose, I definitely plan to keep on singing,” said the pint-size vocalist.
Wowing the crowd next was 32-year-old Adrian Battle, who prowled the stage and delivered a mesmerizing Marvin-Gaye like performance of an original song, “Summertime Love.” Battle’s power packed vocals proved to be an audience favorite. “I’m so grateful that people appreciate my music,” said Battle, who revealed that the StarQuest competition marked his first solo performance.
White-haired, 69-year-old Pamela Bellamy-Franklin elicited a flurry of spirited “Amen’s” as she belted out the gospel song “How Great is Thy Faithfulness.” “I never took any singing lessons,” admitted the five-octave Bellamy-Franklin, who sang a capella. “My gift comes straight from God.”
Midway through the auditions, Taste of Soul founder and Los Angeles Sentinel publisher Danny Bakewell Sr. took to the stage to praise the contestants.
“StarQuest is a concept that’s long overdue,” said Bakewell, adding that “ StarQuest will become an annual event of ‘Taste of Soul.’ How can there be an American Idol when they’ve never come to Crenshaw to compete? he asked. There may be an X Factor and an American Idol, but we have wonderful talent right here in our own community. These talented individuals are entertaining us second to none and the talent you see here today will blow your socks off.”
Bakewell, who was also celebrating his birthday, was joined on stage by 10th District City Councilman Herb Wesson, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, music producer Clarence Avant, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, StarQuest producers Tony Cornelius and Yvette Bailey, talent coordinator Ravea Harrell and actor Kel Mitchell. The crowd surprised the publisher by singing “Happy Birthday” Stevie Wonder style. Not missing a beat, Bakewell exhibited some eye-catching dance moves, even attempting near splits to the delight of the audience.
Providing laughs and keeping the procedures moving were comedians Kim Whitley, Dannon Green, actor/comedian Joe Torrey, actors Kel Mitchell, Ernest Thomas, Jazz Raycole, Wesley Jonathan, singer/music producer Ray J, and KTTV anchorwoman Christine Devine.
Audience members danced in the aisles to the sizzling grooves of the House of Vibe All Star Band, the Victor Orlando band, Dijon Talton, Megan Moret, Sahyba, Yours Truly and Sledge Grits.
Contestant Beau Williams captivated the audience with a stirring rendition of “Danny Boy.” At one point, Williams dropped to his knees in a riveting display of jaw-dropping showmanship. “You’re like James Brown’s second cousin,” marveled comedian Green after Williams’ performance.
First tenor Phallon Brown, nattily dressed in a pinstripe suit and black fedora, sang a stirring Luther Vandross-like medley of a “House is not a Home” and “So Amazing” which he dedicated to the late Whitney Houston, while powerhouse German singer Corinna Brown displayed her eye-popping break dancing skills after belting out a rousing rock anthem.
Vocalist Britt J smouldered through her original song “Thinking About the Love.” Dressed in a shimmering gold and silver mini dress, flaunting diamond encrusted hair and a white mink coat, J teasingly tossed her mink on stage during her scintillating performance that left the audience mesmerized.
Vocalist Tanek Montgomery, 29, originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., elicited a sea of female screams during his steamy version of “Hey, Girl,” at one point stripping off his shirt to reveal muscled biceps. “Performing on the StarQuest stage was incredible, indescribable,” Montgomery said after his performance. “I definitely appreciated the opportunity to come out today.”
Barbadian singer Ria Borman got the crowd movin’ and groovin’ with her rousing rendition of the Chaka Khan hit, “I’m Every Woman.”
Guitar-playing Lloyd Perodin, 65, performed “Sex, Relationships, and Sometimes Love” with humorous lyrics that proclaimed, “You got your shoes on backwards and your hair ain’t combed/you got your shoes on backwards, there ain’t no hope.”
Additional contestants participating in the StarQuest were Tommie Rae Powell, Tarsha Rodgers, Rashondra Angelle, Rory Darvel, Mo-Que, Lamar “Deuce” Lubin, Cherose, Kyra Smith, Jacnique, Herman Chamblee, Carla Bagnerise, Goward Horton and Duprice.
Producers Cornelius, son of the late Soul Train founder Don Cornelius, and Bailey kept the crowd in suspense before announcing the two finalists: contestants Adrian Battle and Beau Williams. Battle earned the right to perform on Radio Free KJLH stage and Williams went onto the Wave (94.7 FM) stage. Both singers appeared to be genuinely stunned as the crowd clapped and whistled.