La Reunion Idol brews talent

Baristas brewed deep, rich espressos at La Reunion Coffee in Helena Friday night to a packed house of patrons anxiously awaiting more than flowing coffee.

The musical stylings of six local artists took stage April 16 to compete for the title of La Reunion Idol.

“I can’t believe how young they are,” said judge Josh Brown. “We’re being a little nit picky with them, but they’re so good its sick, and any one of them would blow any other 15 or 16-year-old out of the water.”

Top 6 contestants included Rachel Bullion, Abby Clark, Meghan Farrell, Alexa Rankin, Callie Roney and Katie Searcy, all local high school students.

Rachel Bullion, 17, of Pelham High School began singing in the choir.

“Singing is my passion, but I’ve always had a crutch — singing with someone else or in the choir,” she said. “Now I realize that when I get on stage I love the adrenaline from the crowd.”

Roney, 16, found her passion for music at 13.

Since, she’s written 35 of her own songs and sung at numerous community events.

“I really did this to get some exposure,” Roney said. “To get myself out there and allow people to hear my music.”

Exposure — contestants are getting plenty of it.

“We began renting about 30 chairs to accommodate the crowd, but even after that it’s become standing room only,” said La Reunion Owner Robin Howell. “It’s serious too – people really get into it. It’s become a great way to support local talent.”

Judging the talent are Brown, who’s been a musician for 13 years playing in the blues group “Slim Pickin’s” and currently “The Rustic Family,” and Andrew Henderson, owner of Lost in Sound – a Helena–based recording studio.

Henderson plans to offer the winner the opportunity to record their own demo CD.

Vocal adviser Erin Trapolino also provides constructive critiques to each of the singers after their performances.

Both judges play the shop on a regular basis. Henderson said he’s enjoyed meeting the up and coming artists and sharing his own experiences from being in the music business for the last 10 years.

“I had not met a lot of the talent even though many of them play here from time to time as well,” Henderson said. “So, its exciting to meet other musicians I haven’t heard before.”

What might not be exciting is the flack they sometimes receive.

Brown regularly gets heckled much like American Idol’s own Simon Cowell. After telling contestant Abby Clark he felt she could do much better than her performance of Jackson 5’s “Give Me One More Chance,” someone in the crowd yelled, “Yay, Abby. Boo, Josh.”

Each just takes it in stride and focuses on helping the musicians perfect their craft.

The judges listen not only to vocal capability, but originality too.

“So, yeah if I hear them mimicking someone else, I sort of knock them for it. We just want them to find themselves as artists,” he said.

Henderson looks for stage presence.

“That’s something that takes time to develop but we do want them to have a conversation with the audience and tell a story,” Henderson said.

Roney said she spends hours dissecting her songs. So, she’s very particular about what song she performs in front of an audience.

“When it comes to my music, I want to do this for a good reason. If one of my songs caught on and was played on the radio it would be great — but fame isn’t necessarily why I do this. I want to impact someone.”

The top 4 were selected based on judges’ rankings and the votes of audience members, which count for one-third of each contestant’s score.

Those contestants include: Abby Clark, Meghan Farrell, Alexa Rankin and Callie Roney.

The top 4 will perform next Friday at 7:30 p.m.