Kid Singers Show Off Skills

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Talented middle and high school singers accept their awards.

Malibu has long been known as an enclave for world-class entertainers who call it home—think Cher, Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan, just to name a few. It’s also already home to a number of teenagers who have their own dreams of becoming such entertainers and are ambitiously developing their talents. 

A group of teens showed off their burgeoning singing skills Wednesday night at the Rotary Club of Malibu’s Annual Singing Competition at Pepperdine University’s Raitt Hall. If there were nerves, the kids—who all happened to be Malibu High School students—hid them well. All sang solos in front of professional judges and the packed auditorium.

This year’s host, Ted Silverberg, invited some well-known entertainers to serve as judges. When he announced the bona-fides of local musicians Lenny Goldsmith, Tris Imboden, Ryan Dorn, Craig Shoemaker and John Cowsill, some of the young contestants’ eyes widened hearing the names of the acts the judges have worked with: The Beach Boys, Kenny Loggins, Whitney Houston and Rita Coolidge. 

Seventeen singers ranging in age from 13 to 17 each sang one solo that ranged from pop music, operatic aria, show tunes, blues and folk music. Two girls sang in a different language—one in Hebrew, another Italian. A few of the kids played guitar and sang, including 14-year-old Charlie Evans-Mulvey who told The Malibu Times he only started playing his instrument one month ago. The eighth grader has played piano for years, but admitted to being a little nervous performing on guitar. Because it was his first time in front of judges, Evans-Mulvey said, “I thought any chance to perform is good. It’s better to get used to being on stage so you can do your own thing after you’ve gotten over all the nerves and it’s more fun.” The Malibu Middle School student said he would like to be a performer as an adult.

One of the judges, John Cowsill, knows all about performing, especially at a young age. He joined his family band “The Cowsills” at age seven and has been a musician ever since. The 1960s hit TV show “The Partridge Family” was based on “The Cowsills.” 

“I’m just amazed by it all, seriously,” Cowsill said. “On a fluke they asked me to do this and I said I would love to. I love young talent. I was a child performer. There’s a lot of talent in this room. We’re judging on pitch, quality, engagement, presence, interpretation—they’re all getting 20s straight across.”

Judge Craig Shoemaker is a comedian, but said he was impressed with each singer.

“I am blown away. I’m imagining myself at that age and singing in the shower would be an effort,” Shoemaker said. “It would intimidate me. I can’t believe they’re in front of these people interpreting songs like an adult who’s been at it for decades with subtlety, nuance. I thought it would be Gong Show-ish. It makes the judging difficult.” 

Eighth grader Jersie Byford wants to be a performer growing up, whether it’s acting, singing or dancing. She also admitted to having some jitters, but hid it well. 

“I was nervous just in all,” Byford said. “I’ve been doing this every year and I love the rush of getting up there and the feeling.”

Although the event is a competition with winners receiving prize money of $50, $100 and $200 for third, second and first place, the camaraderie among the entrants was palpable. Each time a youngster would approach the stage they received words of encouragement from other students and plenty of hugs and praise afterward. The level of poise demonstrated was also unexpected, especially by 17-year-old Sophia Polard who stayed composed when sheet music played by Joellen “Cha Cha” McNaughton blew off the piano during a gust from an air conditioner.  

In the end, the judges told the audience their job was tough. 

“I heard a lot of soulful performers,” Lenny Goldsmith said. 

Middle School third place went to Ellie Eddins with her rendition of “Never Enough.” Lauren Reed won second place with a spirited “Just Can’t Wait to be King” and first went to Camille Anneet, singing “On My Way.” 

High School third place honors went to Kira Smit with a rousing “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” Second place was earned by Gabby Farrer with a new interpretation of “I Want You Back” and Claire Anneet took first with a bluesy “I’m Here” from “The Color Purple.”

The high school first place winner will go on to a regional competition with bigger prize money.

Goldsmith called all the contestants winners and encouraged the young performers to keep at it and appreciate their art.