THE MOST TALENT ON ONE STAGE AT BRANSON'S MANSION THEATRE
Forget American Idol. These aren't just pretty faces with great vocal chops. They're all that plus personality and performance. And they write their own songs!
On Saturday night, March 29, at Branson, Missouri's beautiful Mansion Theatre, twelve outstanding performing songwriters and their groups gathered for the 15th Billboard World Song Contest Awards Show and Performance. They came to the entertainment mecca of the Midwest to prove they're ready for the big-time and to compete for cash prizes. Each was already a category winner in the Billboard World Song Contest. But now they had to step it up a notch and deliver the goods head to head with other equally impressive songwriters across twelve different genres of music. And deliver they did.
When the dust onstage had settled, Mariella Gonzalez and her band, The Mariella Show had danced away with top honors and a $5,000 Grand Prize. Their dazzling and flawless performance of her Latin category winning song, "Flyaway", transcended all genre barriers and brought the thoroughly engaged Mansion crowd to its feet with a roar of approval. Flanked by a hot three piece band and two backup singers, New Yorker Mariella was a dynamo of energy and exuberance that lived up to her superb songwriting.
Runner-up honors went to Rick Huckaby of Nashville. With a casual and confident air of Country cool, Huck, as he likes to be known, backed himself on acoustic guitar and delivered his Country category winning song "Ain't Enough Blacktop" with stunning emotion and clarity. When tears and applause mixed at the end of the song, Rick had sealed the deal. He took home $1,500 for pouring his soul into it.
Soulflege', led by rapper Derrick Ashong, took the next award and $1,000 for what can only be described as a mesmerizing performance of communication, life affirmation, and outstanding harmony. Soulflege's Rap category song, "From the Soul", indeed flowed from their soul and into the hearts and soul of the audience. Their ability to connect at every level was undeniable. Ashong's personal magnetism is off the charts.
Terrestrial and internet radio personality and concert promoter extraordinaire, Davit Souders emceed and gave the night a perfectly mixed blend of gravity, humor and discovery. Souders has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry and could not hide his admiration as each act reached deep inside themselves to deliver breakthrough performances. "I was completely amazed by the level of talent and they all certainly rose to the occasion of the event, which just reaffirmed to myself and everyone present why they are Billboard World Song Contest Winners."
The judging panel of industry impresarios which included talent buyers, a hit songwriter and founders of a top music industry conference had the toughest job in the house as every act was extraordinary and the talent margin between them very slim.
The show kicked off in high gear as Portland, Oregon's keyboard extraordinaire, Robert O'Hearn and his wife Wendy set the bar extremely high with their soaring performance of their World category winning song, "Lost Sons of Erin", co-written with Australian poet Paul McCann. Next came the Pop category band "Specimen" with leader Matt Gorny exuding star power to match any major act. They were there in place of Pop act Joel Plaskett who was unable to attend. Specimen's song, "Do U Damage" was perfectly crafted Pop and Gorny's performance indicates a bright future.
Dance category winner, Alyson was next and brought the moves to her song "Here With Me" to life. Already making waves in the California dance music scene, Alyson appears to be a star to watch. Then Americana winner Jared Scharff and the Royals took the stage. And made it their own. Scharff recently became a member of the Saturday Night Live house band and showed why he is in such high demand. Their song "Bedroom Eyes" could shake radio up.
Listen up, Hollywood! If you ever remake a James Coburn style spy movie, i.e. 'Our Man Flint' get DBC to do the soundtrack (or any other soundtrack for that matter). This fresh production team of DJ Boom and Scotty Beam with the gorgeous Victoria Patchen on flawless vocals scorched the image of 60's spy caper/ beach flick right into their Electronica/Soundtrack song "Back To You".
Then lightening struck in the form of Mariella Gonzalez and her band The Mariella Show. Her song, "Flyaway" was hands down winner in the Latin category of the song contest, which chooses songs by their composition, form and structure, melody, lyrical impact and mass appeal. But no one could have predicted the performance that would burst forth from the stage from their very first note. With a tight three piece band (which adds horns and percussion when closer to home), tight harmonies and tight choreography with her backup singers, Mariella penetrated deeply into the sacred territory of diva royalty without ever losing her own unique and deeply appealing identity.
Derrick Ashong and Soulflege' brought their song "From The Soul" quite literally. There is 'something' about Rap category winner Derrick Ashong that makes you want to be in his presence. Bandmates Jonathan Gramling and Kelley Nicole Johnson exude that same 'something'. Whatever 'it' is, they can project it out into an audience. Their lyrics are worldly, intelligent and concise…realistic yet hopeful. Their harmonies have a blended 'oneness" about them. Soulflege' gives you the distinct impression that everything will indeed be alright.
Jazz winner Alyse Black brought her song "Stood For Stand For" into the realm of instant classic with smooth delivery and dynamic presence. Strikingly pretty with a voice to match, her recent move to Austin, Texas would mean the Lone Star State isn"t so 'lone' anymore. The Contemporary Christian/Gospel category was well represented by Carmen Calhoun and her song "Dare 2 Be". This is also a song that transcends boundaries and defies genre limits. Appealing in every way, "Dare 2 Be" is a song that instills hope. Carmen's strong, soulful, angelic voice made the message ring true.
R&B/Blues winner Leah Tysse and her smoking hot band charged through her original "You Don't Scare Me" with impressive authority. It was a lesson in the Blues, as they say; and a fine one at that. Her voice, her songs and her band are making huge strides in their state of California and beyond. DO NOT miss this girl when their bus rolls into your town.
By the time Country winner Rick Huckaby took the stage with just his guitar in hand, it would be hard to imagine how anybody could top the dizzying array of dazzling performances that had gone before. But "Huck" just let the astounding strength of "Not Enough Blacktop" do the talking. Of course it didn't hurt that he comes across as the ideal blend of what you like best about Alan Jackson and George Straight, except with his own sure and solid voice. There is star written all over Rick Huckaby, but he says you can just call him Huck.
The Jimi Anderson Band closed the show and proved that Rock and Roll is alive and doing very well. And it will continue doing well if their song "Another Way to Run" is a harbinger of where Rock is headed. The song carries broad appeal essential to reaching mass audiences and Jimi's band delivered its message with authority and confidence. If you want rock music that moves you, seek out this rising star.
After the performances all the bands gathered onstage for the scores to be tallied and awards to be handed out. Billboard Song Contest director Mark Furnas states, "In all my years around music and theatre, this was the most talent on one stage, at one show, I've ever seen. We choose the winning songs in this contest without ever knowing who's behind them. Then the discovery process starts and we end up with a show like this that I would put up against anyone, anywhere, any time. These are the most talented performing singer/songwriters you can find."
The event was sponsored by The Mansion Entertainment and Media, The City Of Branson and Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, and produced by Billboard World Song Contest.