By Jen Lynds
Over the past 11 years, the Northern Star singing competition that benefits the United Way of Aroostook has ushered in a number of changes to the way that it conducts its competition. It has done away with its name, it has altered the judging system, and organizers embraced competitors from the three counties in New Brunswick that border Aroostook and invited them to enter the contest.
Now, with just 26 days until the event, organizers have decided that distance and geography should no longer stand in the way of a competitor, so they have overturned all of the old rules that would have prohibited them.
Northern Star, a popular international singing contest which first began eleven years ago as Aroostook Idol before expanding to include competitors from neighboring parts of New Brunswick, will take place earlier than usual this year. The first of the regional competitions will be held on Friday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. (U.S. time.,) and the new rules state that as opposed to previous years, contestants can sign up for whichever date and location works best for them. They no longer have to perform at the venue closest to where they live.
“Many times over the years, we have had contestants unable to participate because they were working or had some other scheduling conflict with the regional show closest to them,” said Claudia Stevens, executive director of the United Way of Aroostook. “We wanted to open the contest up to vocalists to participate in the show of their choice. We are also hoping this will mean people who attend our regional shows will hear the voices of singers they might not otherwise.”
Since the dates for the regional productions are set and plans are to hold the contests earlier than in recent years, officials are encouraging prospective contestants to get applications in earlier. The Jan. 30 competition will be held in the Fox Auditorium at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. The second regional show will be held on Saturday, January 31 at 7 p.m. (U.S. time) at the Presque Isle Middle School Auditorium. The final contestants will compete at the Houlton High School Auditorium on Sunday, February 1 at 2 p.m. (U.S. time).
Stevens said that the framework of the show that the audience has always enjoyed will remain the same. At the same time, however, the organizers will also throw in the twist that the crowd has come to expect.
“Essentially, our audience will pick their top two contestants from each regional show in Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Houlton, as they have for several years,” she explained.
“The added twist is that instead of the judges picking the third finalist to head to our finale production, they will actually pair each of the audience selections with a pick of their own.” she continued. “Each of the contestant pairs will work with a regional judge to prepare and sing one song together at the finale. At the finale, the audience will vote for the contestant in each pair they feel is the strongest. The audience picks will then compete solo in the final round for the 2015 Northern Star title.”
Organizers are eyeing 15 as the number of singers for each of the three regional shows in Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Houlton. The pairs of singers created with the audience and judges’ picks from uthese shows will compete in the Northern Star Finale on Sunday, February 8 at 2:00 p.m. at the Caribou Performing Arts Center
Organizers will continue with changes they made to the judges panel a few years ago when they went away from having the same three judges appear at each regional venue. Instead, three local celebrity judges from that specific region will sit on each panel. The local judges will help “coach” the regional contestant pairs for the finale, including picking the song they will perform.
Northern Star was created more than a decade ago when officials with the United Way of Aroostook took a chance on a new fundraiser they hoped would replace an annual County-wide telethon. Since then, they have succeeded in developing the largest and most successful talent show in northern Maine and northwestern New Brunswick, raising more than $350,000 over the years for numerous worthwhile non-profit organizations, and making regional celebrities out of some of the international region’s top vocalists.
Admission to each regional show and the finale production is $10. All proceeds from funds raised at the door will go directly to the United Way of Aroostook’s annual campaign.
For more information on the Northern Star competition, contact the United Way of Aroostook at (207) 764-5197.