The smile on Nick Hallman’s face says it all.
But as the Georgian Bay Secondary School student accepts his grand prize for GBSS Idol Season Four, the exuberant faces around him reveal even more about this popular Meaford event. “Each student who performed that night was star-struck by the experience,” says Patrick Delaney, the GBSS music teacher who oversees the production. “They were blown away by the sound quality and by the opportunity to perform in such a high-calibre venue. For many of the students performing, this was an opportunity of a lifetime – the biggest stage that they’ll ever see.” And the series of performances isn’t solely about those competing to be the “Idol”, he says. “What’s neat about this production is all the people behind the scenes. For every kid that goes up and sings a Kelly Clarkson song, there’s a guitarist, drummer and bass player in the background. Over 50 students participated – singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, accompanists and tech crew helpers.”
The first GBSS Idol kicked off in 2008, when the popularity of American Idol and Canadian Idol was at a high point. “Basically, we did a talent show at the school,” says Delaney. “But we made sure it wasn’t karaoke – it was live, and you had to have a backup band.” As in the television series, contestants performed in a number of rounds, competing for votes from the audience, with winners moving on to the next round. The first round generated a lot of buzz, and the second was bigger, with articles in the local newspaper. Around the time of the third round, Delaney got a call from the Meaford Hall and Culture Foundation.
“They invited us to do our final round performance at the Hall,” he says. “They donated the cost of the Hall and a large portion of the prize money. It was wonderful.” From there, the event continued to grow. Participation more than doubled in Season Two, and the students and the audience were thrilled to have Collingwood’s Drew Wright, who’d placed third on Canadian Idol visit the school. He gave a workshop on vocal technique and preparation for those who’d made the top 10 in GBSS Idol, and he performed at the high school later that night. Once again, thanks to MHCF, the finale took place on the stage at Meaford Hall for another sold-out audience. “Being at the Hall is wonderful,” says Delaney. “The team is so professional – the crew, the equipment, everything.” The series took a break the following year and, under a tight budget, the organizers decided to hold the final show at the school and generate a larger profit from door receipts. Delaney explained the reasons for the decision to the Foundation, and when Season Four kicked off, he received a delightful surprise. “They said, ‘We’ll pay for the hall. We’ll donate the prizes. And you can keep every penny of the door.’ It was fantastic, just fantastic. I think because the Foundation has been managed so well and has grown over the years, they were able to do this at this stage.” More than 50 students participated in Season Four of GBSS Idol, taking to the stage in the elimination concerts that would choose the top contestants. “It brings them closer together as friends and rivals in a competitive, yet constructive, setting,” says Delaney. “As each month passed, they get closer to the final round and a chance to perform on the biggest stage of their career so far. If you ask any of the participants, they will tell you that their goal is not to win the Idol competition, but to make it to the Top 10, so that they can stand on that stage in that beautiful venue and perform for the audience.” GBSS Idol and the Foundation have grown together over the years, says Delaney. “The financial and logistical support the Foundation was able to provide was invaluable and greatly appreciated, and the ongoing partnership between the GBSS Music program and the Foundation is something that we should all be very proud of. It’s a partnership between adults and youths in our community and a very important and welcome investment in the arts.”