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Local Maryland Senior Idol Contest winner to represent Washington Co. in Bowie, Md.

March 30, 2013|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alicia.notarianni@herald-mail.com
  • Bill Divelbiss, left, and Jerry Mullenix are headed to the Senior Idol State competition in Baltimore this April.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Jerry Mullenix has a stage on the lower level of his house. It’s flanked by a swanky curtain at the head of a dance floor.

He built it himself because he loves ’50s and ’60s music, and he plans to entertain friends there someday.

There’s just one problem.

He is shy. So shy that, at 61 years old, the Hagerstown resident said he hasn’t really ever sung for anyone other than himself.

“I always wanted to be on stage since I was a squirt kid, but I’m scared to death to be on a real one. So I made my own,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mullenix and William “Bill” Divelbiss will represent Washington County at the seventh annual Maryland Senior Idol contest at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts in Bowie, Md.

Mullenix defied his fear on a Saturday in late January, stepping on stage in a Hawaiian shirt and a lei in front of an audience of more than 200 at the local Maryland Senior Idol Contest sponsored by the Washington County Commission on Aging at Bridge of Life church.

“It’s a good thing my pants were loose so people couldn’t see my knees shaking. I was just scared to death,” he said. “It was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Mullenix told the crowd it was his first time singing publicly.

“I hope I can do a good job for you,” he said.

Before he had delivered a full line of the 1961 pop ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the audience began expressing unmistakable approval for his deep, smooth delivery with screams and cheers of applause. And before the contest was over, the rookie singer had placed first of 13 contestants and earned the idol title.

A whole different ballgame

Mullenix, who has been employed for 22 years by ABC Supply Co., a wholesale building material company, said as a boy, he dreamed of becoming a disc jockey. One of seven children, he would sit spinning 45s on a record player.

“I’ve been singing all of my life, just never for anybody,” Mullenix said. “I’d go out in the woods and sing.”

The father of two and grandfather of one said his favorite songs to sing are “Mushy, mushy, mushy.”

It was through the work of his wife, Judy Mullenix, that Jerry began to sing in front of people about a year ago. As an activities director at Homewood at Williamsport, she was looking for volunteers for karaoke. Mullenix said he would “drift in from time to time.”

One time, Washington County Senior Idol 2010 Jack Myers heard Mullenix sing and told him he should sign up for the Senior Idol contest. Mullenix had done stand-up comedy and had performed magic shows on weekends for 20 years. But singing was a whole different ballgame, he said.

“I’ve been on stage doing 20-minute magic shows in front of 1,400 people. A nail sticking up could have put me on my butt. But I wasn’t nearly as nervous then,” Mullenix said. “Magic, I knew I could do. Singing, I didn’t.”

With the success of the local contest under his belt, Mullenix said he’ll be more confident in Bowie.

“Acceptance will make you do anything better,” he said. “When the crowd started applauding when I started singing, I was like, ‘What happened?’ When I felt the acceptance, I have never sung better in my life. I knew I was finally accepted as a singer. Now, I feel like I can sing.”

Mullenix said he “has a job to do” at the state competition. He has read up on the competition and said some are “heavy hitters.”

“I’m definitely going in as the underdog. I’ve got no experience other than singing to the birds in the trees,” he said. “My biggest thing is, I don’t want to embarrass anyone. I’m gonna do my best for Washington County and Hagerstown.”

Reviewing his performance at the local contest, Mullenix said his ensemble “clashed.” He plans to wear a different Hawaiian shirt at the state contest, but other than that, he doesn’t want to change a thing.

“As soon as I try to do anything different than I did from my heart that day, I can’t do anything different. I can’t do better,” he said. “I found that out.”

As for the doo-wop, rockabilly-style stage in his own home, Mullenix said he sees it as his musical “Field of Dreams,” in reference to the movie in which a man built a baseball diamond in his yard.

“I have a karaoke machine set up down there,” he said. “One of these days, I will just have some friends over to sing. I plan to do that someday. But I really meant it more for other people to sing than for me.”

Take it as it goes

William “Bill” Divelbiss, 65, of Hagerstown, also earned a chance to compete in the state contest by winning first runner-up at the local level.

Divelbiss, who was born and raised in Mercersburg, Pa., said he remembers singing a lot when he was as young as 6 years old. He sang in the chorus throughout his school years, and performed a solo at his high school graduation. When he was about 30, Divelbiss began studying piano and started singing for churches and at weddings and funerals.

Today, the husband, father of two and grandfather of three sings with the Mason-Dixon Barbershop Chorus and is a member of a quartet known as The Polished Four.

“Music has always been a thing for me. It’s just something special. It calms me, relaxes me. I can sit at the piano and play for hours on end,” he said.

Though he describes himself as “mostly a gospel singer” and prefers to sing songs performed by Elvis Presley and Jim Reeves, Divelbiss chose “Honey (I Miss You),” which was made popular by Bobby Goldsboro, as his contest piece.

Divelbiss competed in the local contest twice before this year’s competition and decided that for his third time, he wanted to sing a song that was especially heartfelt. “Honey” is a narrative mourning a deceased lover. As executive vice president of Rose Hill Cemetery, the theme resonated with him.

“Everyone has lost someone. A lot of husbands, a lot of wives,” he said. “That’s what it was about. I’ve seen so much sadness, so much loss over the years, and that’s why I picked it. I could put my heart into it more.”

Though he usually does get nervous singing in front of people, Divelbiss said, he was unusually calm at the January contest.

“I wasn’t nervous. Not one bit,” he said. “I got up front and I was just so comfortable.”

Divelbiss said he is not sure what to expect in terms of nerves at the state contest. He thinks the competition will be intense, but he plans to “take it as it goes.”

“I’ve gone over the song enough. I’ve sung it enough that I feel comfortable with it. I know what I need to do,” he said. “If I don’t make it, I already feel like I’ve accomplished something. And I’ll try again next year.”

The bus is full

The Washington County Commission on Aging has arranged bus transportation to the Maryland Senior Idol contest at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts in Bowie, Md., at a minimal cost for friends, family and fans.

Ruth Brown of the Commission on Aging, who organizes the local contest, said all 47 bus seats have been sold. On the way, riders will be treated to video footage of performances from previous state competitions.

Brown said when the agency decided to offer bus transportation this year, it was “going out in faith that there would be enough interest to fuel the bus.” Response has been hearty, she said.

“People are so excited, so supportive of our contestants going down there. I know it’s uplifting for them,” Brown said. “I think everyone is in for a real treat.”

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