Teen Idol winner is a real character

Alex Hemphill convincing as Tracy Turnblad of 'Hairspray'

March 25, 2012|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI |
  • Alex Hemphill portrays the character Tracy from the musical 'Hairspray' Saturday on her way to winning Washington County Free Library's Teen Idol 2012 contest at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — When Alex Hemphill stepped onstage to sing Saturday night at The Maryland Theatre, the audience didn’t exactly see “her.”

The 15-year-old Boonsboro resident said she was a roller coaster of emotion until she slipped into the character Tracy from the musical “Hairspray.”

“Then I was like, ‘You know what? I got this,’” Alex said.

What the audience saw seemed to be every fiber — from facial expression and motion to meticulous, robust voice — of the pleasant and plucky character Tracy Turnblad.

“I love getting into character, so I chose the most ‘charactery’ songs I could find,” Alex said.

It was her delivery of those songs — “Good Morning Baltimore” from “Hairspray” and “Ireland” from “Legally Blonde” — that won Alex top honors and a $1,000 prize in Washington County Free Library’s Teen Idol 2012 contest.

About 75 vocalists ages 15 to 19 auditioned for the contest at Port City Java and at Valley Mall in Hagerstown in February. Twenty were chosen to compete in Saturday evening’s event before three judges and more than 500 enthusiastic spectators.

Alex, a student at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, said she did not know much about the contest until her best friend decided to audition.

“I said, ‘You know what? I’ll do it too.’ And I got in. I was incredibly surprised,” she said.

Once she made the top 20, Alex said doing musical theater numbers was a no-brainer. Throughout her performances, she altered her voice momentarily to sound once like Celtic harmonies and another time like the drone of bagpipes. She oozed with personality, delivering lines and telling jokes within her songs.

“It’s something you just feel. You hear the music and think, ‘If I’m singing this song, I’m gonna be this kind of person,’” she said.

Judge Niki Reese Perini gave feedback on Alex’s performance.

“Alex, the only thing that shines more than your eyes is your voice,” Perini said.

Jacob Ward, 16, of Hagerstown, took second place in the contest and a $500 prize. The North Hagerstown High School student was the first of the 20 to perform.

“I thought it was kind of exciting to go first,” he said. “It gave me a chance to set the bar high.”

Jacob stood at the mic and sent his rendition of Josh Groban’s “Remember When It Rained” across the theater. Perini said his voice was “a beautiful instrument” and offered a piece of advice.

“If you make it to the next round, hold that microphone in your hand and own it every minute,” she said.

Jacob returned for his top-five performance and did just that. Dressed in black, he clutched the mic and ambled the stage doling out a haunting, yet toe-tapping serving of “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” by Panic! At The Disco.

Jacob said he comes from a family of singers. He has always sung, he said, whether at churches, nursing homes or in the former slaughterhouse from which his family runs a Christian ministry organization.

Alex said she would use her $1,000 prize toward a summer musical theater camp run by Broadway veterans. Jacob said he would put $250 in savings and $100 toward a Christian music festival, then use the remainder for a shopping spree.

“Because I’ve never done that before,” he said.

The other top-five finalists were Harley Harrison, 18, of Hagerstown; Tessa Wiles, 18, of Clear Spring; and Lev Yermolenko, 18, a student at Hagerstown Community College.

Lisa Key, Washington County Free Library circulation manager and Teen Idol coordinator, said she has been “amazed” by the level of talent and the passion of the teens during the six years since the contest began.

“They really put themselves out there and make themselves vulnerable,” Key said. “And they bring such a variety, from old school to contemporary. Tonight we had kids singing Sinatra and Broadway, Duffy and Adele.”

Dance students from Barbara Ingram School for the Arts provided additional entertainment, along with Teen Idol 2011 first- and second-place winners Devin Fields and Whitney Blickenstaff.

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