The Making of an Idol

The 11 finalists, from left to right, Ari Coco, Gilli Messer, Jasmine Daghighian, Justin Jones, Treasure Davis, Charles Hinshaw, Kiera Wells, Kiyanna Epps, Taylor Fisher, Annie Tippe and Charmagne Land.
The 11 finalists, from left to right, Ari Coco, Gilli Messer, Jasmine Daghighian, Justin Jones, Treasure Davis, Charles Hinshaw, Kiera Wells, Kiyanna Epps, Taylor Fisher, Annie Tippe and Charmagne Land.
Photo by Rich Schmitt, Staff Photographer

Simon Cowell was nowhere in sight when Palisades High School named its very own Pali Idol Friday night. In fact, all the judges had nothing but positive comments to say to the talented group of singers in the ‘American Idol’-style competition. Palisades High School sophomore Annie Tippe won the title of Pali Idol 2004 singing a soulful, bluesy rendition of ‘Proud Mary’ accompanied by her father Ron on guitar. Annie was the evening’s winner, but all 11 finalists got their star turn in the second annual contest’ belting out songs in a variety of genres in front of a panel of four entertainment industry judges and an audience of over 250 people at Mercer Hall. As each finalist performed, the judges’ vote counted for 75 percent of the score and the audience vote counted for 25 percent. Along with Tippe, seniors Treasure Davis, who sang a soulful ‘A Voice Within,’ and Kiyanna Epps, who sang a jazz/blues ballad, ‘I’m Going Down,’ moved on to the second round. The judges made comments, but only the audience’s votes counted in the second round. ‘I wanted to tell the other two girls Treasure and Kiyanna, I would have loved to share the title with them,’ Tippe said. ‘I think they both have careers in music, they were both my idols that night.’ The event was organized by the PaliHi Leadership class, whose teacher, Chris Lee, started the event last year based on the popular TV show ‘American Idol.’ A music lover, Lee felt that in addition to the theater department’s musical, students should have a chance to show their vocal skills. ‘I thought it would be nice to have a talent show, to give kids who just want to sing the opportunity.’ Just like ‘American Idol’s’ contestants, who all have gone on tour together, the 11 finalists will perform together at PaliHi’s Casino Night on March 12. Tippe took the title and $200 cash, while runners-up Davis and Epps each won $50, and each of the other finalists, Ari Coco, Charmagne Land, Charles Hinshaw, Jasmine Daghighian, Gilli Messer, Justin Jones, Taylor Fisher and Kiera Wells, received a $20 gift certificate to Blockbuster. Tippe, a Brentwood resident, already knows what she’s spending her winnings on: some in savings and the rest towards a record player and ‘an Amoeba Records shopping spree’ for old jazz albums. ‘I’ve been listening to a lot of records lately, and I like the scratchy, rugged quality. CDs are more processed,’ said Tippe, who hopes to have a career as a record producer and whose dream is to sing in small jazz clubs. The competition started two weeks ago with over 70 contestants, who each sang a 30-second tidbit from any song they wanted. From these, three teacher judges selected the top 20 who were winnowed down based on their talent, ability, presence and personality. The judges were Diane Feldman Turen, the founder of Children’s Civic Light Opera and a director and producer for that company; Mareo, a singer, songwriter, actor and clothing designer, who also teaches hip hop and jazz dance at Fancy Feet Dance Studio and toured as a backup vocalist with the former ‘American Idol’ Kelly Clarkson; Phil Margaziotis, a PaliHi graduate, music producer and engineer; and Barbara Passolt, a singer and musical theater actress. The judges were impressed with the students’ comfort on the stage and passion for the music. ‘The judges were all really positive,’ said Tippe. ‘I thought the contest was so much better than the TV show [known for the judge’s harsh comments].’ The music ran the gamut from oldies to R&B to country. Some sang a capella, others had friends play instruments or used karaoke soundtracks. Many were accompanied, quietly from backstage by their fellow contestants who sang along. Leadership’s Lee and senior Amy Gumenick were the co-emcees. ‘My favorite part was how supportive the contestants were of one another,’ said Lee. ‘They were so proud of one another and had an utter joy in the music.’ (Additional Reporting by Courtney Schmitt)