A star was born Tuesday evening at the Hard Rock Cafe Tampa during the finale of Wild 94.1's Tampa Bay Talent Search, a local effort to find the most talented singer/songwriter in the Tampa Bay area. In Tampa's own version of American Idol, eleven talented singer/songwriters performed in front of three esteemed judges but only one could win the coveted prize package.
The Tampa Bay Talent Search kicked off in August with a performance by rising pop star Tori Kelly at the Hard Rock Cafe. Kelly, who found fame on YouTube and American Idol, has a special relationship with Wild 94.1's Morning Show Host, Orlando Davis, who spearheaded the competition. The Tampa Bay Talent Search was important to Davis because he feels it's time for Tampa to shine. "We need a song from Tampa, we should have our own sound" said Davis.
Following Kelly's performance, 210 aspiring Tampa Bay singer/songwriters entered the competition by submitting a video to Wild 94.1. Station executives chose 10 finalists to perform in the finale and opened it up to the listeners to choose the artist who would occupy the final spot. The votes came rolling in on social media and the 11th spot went to Francesca Giorgianni.
Competitors, judges, friends, family and fans packed the Hard Rock Cafe for the finale. Each finalist performed one song in front of the panel of judges which included Lee L'Heureux, VP of Warner Bros. Records; Ayelet Schiffman, VP of Columbia Records; and Dennis Stafford from Dean Guitars (not pictured).
David Camden kicked off the night with his original song "Who Says You Need To Have Money" which had everyone out of their chairs clapping in a sing-along style:
Eden Shireen, who participated in the casino's Tampa Bay Acoustic Music Festival this past June, serenaded the crowd with her song "Stick Around". Shireen wrote this song about "mean people" and her desire for them to "stick around to watch all the awesome things I'm going to do". I hope some of those "mean people" were in the audience because Shireen is surely doing some awesome stuff!
Kristopher J also participated in the Tampa Bay Acoustic Music Festival and came back stronger than ever to perform his original song "Shadows":
Ari Chi was the only performer to play the ukulele for her original song "From A Distance". Chi isn't Hawaiian but she rocked the ukulele and showed off the singing skills she's been developing "since I could talk":
Writing and singing since she was 7, 15 year old Sarah Morey got the judges attention with her original pop song "Vintage Cream Soda". Sarah started playing piano at age 5 and also plays the guitar, harp, clarinet and ukulele. Earlier this summer, she was one of only 39 high school students in the country chosen to attend the 11th annual Grammy Camp in Nashville. It's clear this 15 year old is "catching fire":
Taking the stage last, 16 year old Hillsborough High School student Francesca Giorgianni captivated the judges with her performance of her favorite song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". As the walk on contestant and last to perform, Giorgianni thought she was at a disadvantage but once she walked on stage she overcame her nerves and stunned the judges with her performance of this familiar but extremely difficult song.
After the performers had given it their all, it was time for the judges to make their decision. When looking for new talent Ayelet Schiffman, VP of Columbia Records, said she looks for "originality, style, voice and something we can export on a large scale". Another factor they take into account is personality. "It's not always about being the most talented, it's about the complete picture" said Lee L'Heureux, VP of Warner Bros. Records.
With nerves at an all time high, the contestants gathered on stage to hear the final results. It was a tough decision for the judges but in the end, Eden Shireen and Ari Chi tied for third place, Sarah Morey placed second and Francesca Giorgianni was crowned the winner and walked away with $2,500 in cash and $1,000 in music gear from Paragon Music.
Giorgianni stood out to the judges because of the difficulty of her song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and simply because they wanted to hear more from her. As the walk on finalist, Giorgianni was thrilled and a little bit shocked to win the contest. She hadn't told people at school about her music career before but when it came to needing votes she "shouted it out to the world" and it worked.
Giorgianni started playing piano when she was 6 and in addition to singing and playing the guitar she also plays the ukulele, bass, clarinet and violin. She wants to play music "the rest of her life" because "I love people, I love playing for people, I don't want to do this for me, I want to share my music with people and make them feel something" said Giorgianni.
What is this 16 year old going to do with the $2,500 in cash? "I'm going to donate a good amount of it to my high school music education program because music is getting cut and it should't be. It helped me express myself .... and if others have that outlet everyone will be in a better place." What an inspiration!
Congratulations to all the finalists and a special thank you to Wild 94.1, Tori Kelly, Orlando Davis, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, Lee L'Heureux, Ayelet Schiffman, Dennis Stafford and all of the sponsors who made this event happen. The search is over for now but it's clear, there is a lot of musical talent just waiting to be found in Tampa Bay!