The ten finalists in GT&T’s fourth Cellink Jingle and Song Competition put on star-making performances on Thursday night at the National Cultural Centre, where they proved why they were the cream of the crop.
But fans and supporters will have to wait almost two weeks to welcome this year’s winner, who will be announced, after final voting is completed, at a grand finale planned for August 3.
The contestants, however, each staked their claim at Thursday night’s spectacular, which paid homage to Guyanese singers who rose to fame in the early 70s and 80s. The tributes to Eddy Grant, Sammy Baksh, Pamela Maynard, Alan Fiedkou, Ivor Lynch, Aubrey Cummings, Rita Chester and Kenny Lawrence created the ambiance for an evening of stellar performances. The contestants performed in two segments, the first featuring covers of songs by those Guyanese greats, and the second their original compositions. It all combined for an awe-inspiring display of local talent, which won the praise of the throngs of people who turned out to support their contestants. By the end of the night, there was little doubt from the comments and expressions on the faces the patrons who filed out of the venue some minutes to midnight that “Guyana’s has got talent”.
Still, the question remains: Who will drive away with the first prize sparkling Toyota Vios car? Will it be Ashley John, Malika Boyd, Annece Hicks, Renne Chester, Ashford Ward, Quacy Coates, Michael Thompson, Pheona Da Silva, Raoule Samuels, or Carlvin Burnett? The judges, Sean Bhola, Ron Robinson, Oliver Basdeo and Rosemary Henry, had the unenviable task of arriving at an answer. They were responsible for adjudicating the musical elements in the performances and from all appearances they were moved beyond their professional aloofness.
Runner-up at the 2007 competition, Renee Winter, opened the curtains to the evening’s display of talent with her debut single, “Just be Yourself,” reminding why she came close to winning the top prize herself.
The first contestant to take the stage, Ashley John, was unfortunately greeted with boos from some sections of the crowds; other sections prodded her to persist against the naysayers. An obvious underdog, John was not dissuaded. Instead she “turned the crowd around,” according to Basdeo, with her rendition of Barbara Sookraj’s “How can I begin?” Inexperienced to singing and the competition, by her own admission, John pulled off two very fair performances.
In contrast, the announcement of the name Malika Boyd set off thunderous applause and deafening screams among the audience. She sustained the hype with which she was greeted throughout her performance of Pamela Maynard’s “Lost, Lonely and Helpless.” Boyd’s handling of the melody, the lyrics and the harmony of that song as well as her original piece, “Dance, Love, Live, Give,” was remarkable, demonstrating that she was indeed ready for the big stage.
Annece Hicks’ presentation was credible, but a far cry from her classic performance in the semi-finals. She is the youngest competitor and throughout the competition had done songs which were way beyond her years of experience; yet her interpretations of the lyrics said otherwise.
However, on Thursday night her choice of song finally caught up with her. The vocal range of
her rendition of Sammy Baksh’s “Open Your Eyes” was too low for her to demonstrate her artistic flare, for which she has become greatly admired. As a result, she failed to connect with the audience and mildly impressed the judges. However Hicks’s original piece, a catchy salsa composition entitled “The Love of Jesus,” proved that she should not be ruled out of the competition.
Noted for his dramatic ability, Renne Chester did not disappoint either. His rendition of “Black Man’s Prayer,” made popular by Alan Fiedkou, was described as his “best performance” in the competition by Robinson.
Chester moved the audience with his vocal range in his performance of the song. His original piece, “Not Ashamed,” also pleased them.
Ashton Ward’s stage performance, in the first instance was awkward. He was obviously out of his reggae comfort zone. But beyond this, he demonstrated versatility, clarity and rich harmony with his distinct rustic voice as he sang “When You’re in Love” by Ivor Lynch. In the presentation of his original piece, “Harder Dem Come” Ward basked in his comfort zone, but while the melody was catchy, the judges felt that his intonation needed more clarity.
Second-time contestant Quacy Coates was also not comfortable with his own version of “A Flower Named June,” made popular by Aubrey Cummings. His voice lacked the smoothness the song required, but he won approval for his stage presence, appearing in a dashing blue suit that won him the favour of the audience.
Like Ward, he also played to his strengths with his road-march like original piece, “Festival Time.” It had the kind of gyrating quality that could easily set a soca fete ablaze.
While the audience’s appreciation was clearly indistinguishable after each wowing performance, one could tell that there were definitely a few crowd favourites. Michael Thompson was one of them. He was a crowd pleaser with his delightful imitations of the stage antics of the late King of Pop Michael Jackson. His artistic sensitivity to melody, harmony and range was equally pleasing to the ear. Thompson’s performance of a song made popular by Sammy Baksh and Pamela Maynard sent the Cultural Centre into a frenzy of delight, evoking Robinson to comment, “We said farewell to Michael J. Tonight Michael T is born.” His original piece, “We Need Love,” written by himself and Claire Odle was no less enchanting.
Raoule Samuels was another strong vocalist, but his quiet presence on stage failed to win him a connection with the audience. His rendition of “What will I do?” by Kenny Lawrence did, however, earn him high praises from the judges. So too did his original piece, “Jesus is calling.”
If the judges were deciding the winner based on the crowd’s reception, the winner of the 2009 GT&T Song and Jingle competition would be Carlvin Burnett. This Cinderella County native wowed the audience with his rendition of Mark Holder’s “Something of Value” and like his counterpart, Thompson, he delighted the audience with famous Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, creating pandemonium in the building.
Phoena Da Silva, another crowd pleaser was lauded for having the best original composition of the night.
Her rendition of Rita Forrester’s “Set my Heart at Ease” could certainly set her heart at ease for a place among the top three, based on the judges’ comments and the reception of the audience. This sultry singer had no real stage antics, but the quality of her voice stilled the loud audience to reverence, and then earsplitting applause.
Meanwhile, backstage, GT&T Marketing Officer and Project Coordinator Renata Exeter said that this staging of the competition exceeded the company’s expectations. She said that GT&T wanted the show to have popular appeal for television production purposes. Evaluating the popularity of the competition in terms of text votes received between the quarter finals and the semi finals, she said in excess of 28,000 messages were tallied. Also noted was the developmental value of the competition in respect of nurturing the musical talents of the budding artistes who entered. The contestants benefited from the expertise of Russell Lancaster, who instructed them in voice training and Dave Martins, who gave the finalists pointers on lyrical composition and other key insights on the release of a debut album.
Thursday night’s show also featured performances by Charmaine Blackman, Dave Martins and Classique Dance Company.