I haven’t been shy about stating that the Great American Songbook high school vocal competition is one of the highlights of the Indianapolis A&E year. At least for me. And this year’s edition on July 25 at the Palladium, was no different.
Well, actually, it was a little different.
The most noticeable change for those of us who make a pilgrimage every year to restore our faith that kids still dig Cole Porter, Harry Warren, etc. was that 40 finalists all were featured in a few group numbers at the main event. The final ten had already been picked by the time they took the stage, but the rest presented well, leading us to believe that the competition was fierce to make the finals.
In past years, it wasn’t too difficult to identify the one or two runaway favorites after each delivered a pair of songs. This year, though, none stood so far ahead of the rest that the decision of the judges was a foregone conclusion. If placing bets, though, I would have put my money on Drew Mabusth, a Dubuque Iowa, 18-year old who delivered an accomplished, sincere “At Last” in the first half and switched it up for a sly-but-not-imitative “Fever” in the second. Or Deirdre Pedersen, 16, of Westborough, MA, who bewitched the crowd with “Bewitched, Bothered, & Bewildered” and “Almost Like Being in Love.” Or 17-year old Katie Swaney, from just down the road in Greenwood, who offered contrasting B’way classics “My White Knight” and “Show Me.”
The winner, though, was another local—Lucas DeBard, a Lebanon High School graduate on his way to IU, who got the crowd’s attention by modernizing the classic “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” to include the lyric “…tweet myself a twitter” and then mashing up “I’ll See You in My Dreams” with “I Have Dreamed.”
The other noticeable change in the event was the absence of most of the mentors who worked with the competitors all week. Neither opera star Sylvia McNair or Broadway leading lady Laura Osnes were introduced, leaving ever-genial Michael Feinstein to handle the chores himself—and leaving an impression that the evening’s performance was just a formality when it came to picking a winner.
But what's the use in wonderin'? Another inspiring young talent is on his way to a year of musical adventure thanks to the Great American Songbook Foundation. And 39 other young people have a significantly better shot now of landing a part in their college or high school musical. And the Songbook has, once again, been well served.