MOUNT VERNON — Two soulful ballad singers won the hearts of the crowd on Public Square on Friday night to be voted the 2009 Knox Idols. Alex Ashbrook took the title in the 14-to-18 age group, while Mary Vonck won the 19-to-29 age group. They emerged victorious over a wide-ranging field of contestants performing on a balmy summer night.
Both of Ashbrook’s performances were classy and low-key, but very polished, renditions of songs by John Legend, highlighting the 17-year-old singer’s elegant control of his crooning voice. This was particularly evident in his expressive finals round selection, “Ordinary People.” The three judges — Lynn Jurkowitz, Bruce Jacklin and Leah Andrews — praised his fluid singing, while encouraging him to connect with the audience, too. Quietly intense offstage, he was relaxed under the lights.
“I’ve done these two songs before, and I’m a big fan of them, so it felt pretty good,” the Mount Vernon High School senior said after winning.
Vonck started “At Last” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” with a sultry, velvety alto voice, then built to intense, ringing climaxes. The judges praised her, although Andrews pointed out that Vonck might be able to connect more directly with the crowd if she didn’t use sheet music as she was accompanying herself on the piano. The Ohio State University student said the support of the crowd allowed her to really make the songs her own.
“The crowd was awesome,” Vonck said. “I was nervous, but they made me feel really welcome.”
The other teen contestants were strong, too. Allyson Black worked the crowd in an upbeat performance of Joe Dee Messina’s “Bye, Bye.” That got her voted into the final round, where she gave a yearning, heartfelt performance of Carrie Underwood’s “I Told You So.” K. C. Horn had a ton of fun giving a colorful and bold performance of “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” which prompted Jurkowitz to exult about how much fun Horn was to watch. Becka McCarthy gave a high-energy, rocking performance of Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene,” drawing cheers from the lively crowd.
In the 19-to-29 age group, Kurt Chaney, accompanying himself on guitar, demonstrated an expressive authority and ease with Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” and was alternately bluesy and tender in “Trouble.” Jennifer Casner, a familiar face from Mount Vernon’s theatrical scene, used her knowledge of acting not for theatrics, but for a direct, passionate communication of Cher’s song “Turn Back Time.” This prompted Jacklin to comment that her performance made him really listen to the lyrics for the first time. As soon as she departed the stage, Casner cracked a joke.
“Wow, singing in my car is way different from singing up there,” she said.
Additional performances were heard from host Joe Barone, last year’s winner Jason Bever, and the Knox County Colonial Kids, a vocal ensemble directed by Marty Bell.