After eight weeks of competition, a 2017 Cortez Idol winner was finally crowned Saturday night.
The top three finalists in the singing competition, Justin Adams, Michele Buffington-Coyote and Liv Story, each performed three songs to a loud, enthusiastic crowd at Blondie’s Trophy Room in a final round to determine the winner. Amid other performances by local artists and former winners, each contestant sang a song by the Eagles, a song picked by the three judges and one that they chose themselves. Although all three got plenty of cheers and applause from the crowd, a combination of audience votes and judges’ scores determined that Story, a Montezuma-Cortez High School student, would win the $1,000 grand prize.
“I just want to thank all of you for supporting the arts in this community,” she told the audience after her last performance, a crowd-pleasing rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter.”
The final decision was a close call. Master of ceremonies P.A. Jackson said that only one point on the judges’ score sheet separated first from third place. But unlike the other nights of the competition, the audience was also allowed to vote for their favorites on Saturday, with their vote counting for about 25 percent of the final score. According to a poll on the competition’s Facebook page, twice as many people voted for Story as second-place winner, Buffington-Coyote.
“I’ve seen some amazing performances tonight,” judge Aaron LeMay told the finalists. “All of you have pushed yourselves and challenged yourselves. ... You deserve to be here.”
All three performers did things the judges said they’d never seen in the competition before, like getting up on the bar to sing, and even going outside during a performance to come back in through the crowd. Although the bar was so crowded by the end of the night that there wasn’t much room to move, several audience members started dancing during Adams’ performance of Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Till the Sun Comes Up),” and the screams from the crowd grew so loud during Story’s last performance that they almost drowned her out at times.
In addition to the finalists, several contestants who didn’t make it to the final round also got a chance to perform one more time, including Linella Miller, who received an award for “Most Improved Performer.” Previous Cortez Idols, like last year’s winner, Dev Strawn, performed as well, and the MCHS drama class performed a song from their upcoming musical, “Once Upon a Mattress.”
The fifth annual Cortez Idol competition started on Jan. 28 with 20 finalists, who had been chosen after a two-week audition period. Each week, they performed songs from a different genre, while the judges eliminated contestants based on musical ability, stage presence and other factors.
At the end of Saturday’s event, which lasted until midnight, judge Brad Sitton thanked the former owner of Blondie’s, Patty Simmons, for her role in starting the competition in 2013.
“Back then, we certainly never thought we’d come this far,” he said.
Sitton announced that he would not be returning to judge next year’s competition, but he encouraged everyone – contestants and audience alike – to tune in again in 2018. He especially asked the contestants who didn’t win this year to try again, “because you’ll get better every time.” Simmons agreed.
“This is something that needs to keep going,” she said.