'Hometown Idol' contestants wow Coast Guard Festival crowd

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:02 AM

“How many people have paid more money for a show not as good as this one?” "Hometown Idol" master of ceremonies Tim Downing asked the crowd of about 200, saying he attends about 50 such talent contests each year. “I’ve never seen a more stellar group of young singers in my life.”

Contestant Jake Jager, 17, a Grand Haven High School junior, wowed the crowd with his animated movements during Garth Brooks’ “Thunder Rolls.”

Jager said he heard about the local contest from his choir teacher, Shirley Lemon, who joined fellow judges Jim Query and Robin Kieft.

“I love to sing and I thought this would be a good opportunity,” Jager said. “And I was right. It went great. All of the talent is really awesome tonight. I’ve got some tough competition.”

Grand Haven High School sophomore Clayton Zimmerman, who plays left guard for the GHHS football team, sweet-songed the audience with a silky smooth tenor rendition of “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables.”

“I’ve never really done anything like this,” said Zimmerman, 15, who received thunderous applause. “It was a good experience.”

Coast Guard Festival Executive Director Mike Smith said he was blown away by the talent. Smith requested that the Musical Fountain show be delayed to allow the contest to finish. The pre-empted fountain shot off at about 10:15 p.m.

“I didn’t think there was this much talent in this small area, but it certainly shows tonight,” Smith said. “I’m surprised so many people came out to participate. I’m very pleased.”

Smith said it’s a given that the festival will host a similar event next year.

“We just might have to start earlier,” Smith said. “Too much talent is a good thing.”

Kenowa Hills eighth-grader Rachel Gillette said she read about the contest on the Internet and decided to sing “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from “My Fair Lady.” As Gillette sat with her fellow teen contestants next to the stage awaiting her turn, she soaked up the sounds.

“The talent is really good,” said Gillette, 13. “I don’t know if I have a chance.”

"Hometown Idol" event producer Robin Wojta said the Grand Haven show — with 34 contestants in the junior, teen and adult categories — was the largest her year-old company has ever produced. "Hometown Idol" is based in Berkley, Mich.

“This is unbelievable,” Wojta said as Spring Lake High School freshman Leah VanderLaan crooned to the crowd. “When we were booking the show, Mike Smith said you had a lot of great talent in Grand Haven. He’s right. I can’t believe the level of talent. Each singer is better than the last.”

First-prize winners in each category received $100; second place received $50 and third place got $25.

Winners will also advance to a November 2012 state competition, according to Wojta.

The winners in the junior category were: first, Libby Haan; second, Anja Hochhuth; and third, Grant Teeple. The teen winners were: first, Leah VanderLaan; second, Brittany Flowers; and third, Jacob Jager. Adult winners were: first, Caite Lenahan; second, Margot VanOordt; and third, Tara Moore.

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