It was an emotional night for many Cortez residents. The atmosphere in Blondie's Pub and Grub was thick with anticipation. Few thought the competition would be this intense.
The judges for the Cortez Idol stood in nervous silence as the most difficult stage of the competition unfolded before them.
Two of the region's most recognizable singers, who are known for their performances at most of the karaoke events, provided stirring performances with the final songs of their competition.
Jill Carlson and Megan Demars were left disappointed with their eliminations in the semifinals of Cortez Idol, but thrilled the packed crowd with fabulous swan songs.
Both women had been crowd favorites throughout the first five weeks of the competition, so their elimination stunned and frustrated many in attendance. Nonetheless, they smiled as they graciously accepted their fate.
Marla Sitton, Pepper Noyes and Brianna Sanchez are the remaining three performers. The week ahead will be filled with stress and anxiety as they pick their songs and wait for Wednesday's finale.
Cortez Idol judges Patty Simmons, Brad Sitton, Brandon Stafford and Wes Bennett listened with the rest of the audience as Carlson and Demars rocked the house one final time.
The level of talent throughout has impressed the judges.
"There are certain people you thought wouldn't step up to the plate but they have," Sitton said. "We've become very attached to these contestants."
Moments before the final three decision was announced, the judges tallied the scores of the final five. They calculated the numbers six or seven times, careful not to make a mistake.
"The numbers don't lie," he said. "It's up and down every week. We have no idea who will stay or go."
The number of talented singers that have come from around the region has been remarkable. Every contestant was a serious competitor.
"You can't play with people's emotions," Bennett said. "This means a lot to them and we have to be as serious as they are. The fun and games are over."
As the weeks progressed, elimination grew tougher and tougher.
The final night will take a dramatic turn. The judges' work is now done. It will now be up to the audience to make the final decision when they vote to choose the first Cortez Idol.
Every person who attends the last round of Idol will be able to vote.
"If we look at how far we have come, from the first 15 to now, I think we have done a good job at delivering them (the audience) the last three," Sitton said. "Now Cortez can choose who is their idol."
Noyes was a bundle of energy during the semifinals and says she is nervous all the time.
"I channel my nerves into my performance," Noyes said. "Singing is acting. I only act like I'm confident."
She said she doesn't take this competition lightly and puts in a couple hours of practice a day, which is the case for all the contestants. They no longer have the comfort of a karaoke screen to guide them. All five in the semifinals sang without the monitor on Wednesday.
Host P.A. Jackson was impressed at the level of talent, reiterating all night that they were singing without the words on the screen.
"The competition is so good at this point, there is nothing negative to say anymore," Jackson said. "They have to really critique each singer to get to the negative. You can tell the difference between when we first started and now."
Next Wednesday, Feb. 6, the three finalists will each sing three songs. They will choose two themselves; one song must be from the 1980s, and the third will be chosen by one of the judges.
Stafford oversees the chosen tunes, making sure each song is relevant to that week's theme. The five in the semifinals also needed to have their songs approved.
Marla Sitton, who has been the choir director at Montezuma-Cortez High School for almost 20 years, chose "Born to fly" by the Dixie Chicks for her country song.
"I finally approved her song yesterday," Stafford said. "I thought she sounded amazing with the time she had to learn her song."
Marla Sitton delighted the judges with her performance, each one saying she has been a pleasant surprise as she has gradually come out of her shell during the competition.
Demars was disappointed with her elimination. She is also a former student of Sitton's.
"It was a very stressful night," Demars said. "Now I can sit back and relax. I'm glad Marla made it (to the finals) because she taught me everything I know about singing."
Marla Sitton, who is Brad Sitton's aunt, stood on stage with three of her former students that night, saying she was proud of all of them. Noyes is the only one remaining with her now.
As each performance ended, emotions surfaced. It was plain to see, these women were having fun, but they are also passionate about music and singing.
The crowd was equally affected by the judges' decisions as many audience members were overcome with emotion.
"There are people here I have never seen or met before," Jackson explained. "We have young and old dancing together. This is such a different crowd and I have never seen one this big before."
Carlson was equally surprised. The huge crowd didn't faze her. Her many hours singing karaoke have brought her well past the butterflies stage.
"When I sing karaoke most of the people are there to drink," Carlson said. "This event was so special because this crowd is here to listen.
The overwhelming support for each contestant was the fuel for their fiery performances. The response was a deafening roar of approval, leaving the audience wondering who will take home the gold. firstname.lastname@example.org