Bethany Idol hits a high note among local singers

As the eliminations continue prime time on Fox, “American Idol” fans are tuning in and casting their votes. Each week, viewers listen attentively, eyes and ears glued to their televisions in what has been dubbed one of the largest reality TV obsessions in decades, and it would appear that the frenzy has caught on in Sussex County, too.

Sean Oates, owner of Dublin Steakhouse and Erin’s Pub in Selbyville, had the right idea when he started the Delmarva Idol contest a year ago. Now, last year’s crowned champion, Gina DiNubile, is continuing the craze at Bethany Beach’s Chalkboard Tavern and Grill, with prizes and surprises packed into every Monday night. Contestants took to the stage last Monday in the opening week of what has been coined “Bethany Idol.”

Each Monday night, through June 2, entrants who have undergone auditions and made it past the judges’ deliberation will get to belt out some of their favorite tunes in hopes of obtaining the first-place prize: a week’s stay in a Key West mansion.

This past Monday, 15 entrants warmed up their vocal chords for the opening week, singing two songs of their choosing. From those 15, just 14 performers advanced, with hoots and hollers from the crowd.

Each week, contestants are judged on three factors — vocal ability, stage presence and audience participation/reaction. A panel of judges will get a say every Idol night, as will the audience, who rate each contestant following their performances.

The runner-up will receive a custom-built computer, courtesy of Rehoboth’s Gigabeach. The third-place finisher will get a spa treatment, compliments of Bethany’s Beauty at the Beach.

“It’s really a friendly competition.” said DiNubile. “It takes a lot to get up there and grab that mic and sing in front of a crowd. It’s also different when you’re there in front of your friends. I’ve sang in front of 3,000 people I didn’t know with no problem, but it’s totally different when you’re looking at 30 of your friends. Nerves are definitely a factor.”

Juggling a classes and work schedules can prove to be a task for some contestants, but many of them share the same eagerness to come back out and enjoy themselves.

“I’ve entered contests before where I haven’t seen it through until the end,” said contestant Mynell Bowie, owner of Studio 6. “It’s hard sometimes when you run your own business, but I’ll be sure not to miss any days with this one.”

His focus on the contest is based around pure love for the music and performing for the audience.

“I’m just trying to get out there, do best I can and have fun with it,” said Bowie, who started singing in church and did so for as long as he can remember. “I just want to give people a show.”

Contestant Jay Price has dabbled in the music scene with his church choir and singing alongside accompaniment since he was 9 years old. Stepping up before the crowd is much less of a personal gratitude than one might expect, he said.

“When I get that mic in my hand,” said Price, “my goal is getting to everybody else. It’s not about me, but appealing to the crowd. I want to bring them something they’re going to enjoy; something that suits them.”

Each week, the remaining contestants will face off with a selection of two to three theme selections each night. At the next show, April 14, singers will choose one country song and one movie soundtrack song.

Advancing contestant Jen Schrider stated that this is one of the weeks she is looking forward to the most. She began singing at a young age, as well, entering into a few talent shows here and there.

“Each week will be interesting,” she said, “because there’s a little bit of everything out there. There’s a nice, broad range of styles, but I feel pretty confident. I just want to make the crowd happy when I’m singing.”

The following week, April 21, remaining contestants will select one song by The King, Elvis Presley, and one disco song, with a ’90s and R&B tune the selections on April 28.

“I’m looking forward to the ’70s week the most,” said Bowie. “I enjoy the old-school R&B, too. I’ve got some stuff in store. It should be a real fun time.”

As for Price, he’s looking forward to each and every phase of the contest.

“I don’t have any favorite theme, in particular,” he said. “They will all test my voice. It’s nice to mix it up.”

Some familiar faces that made a presence at Erin’s Pub and other local scenes have turned to the Chalkboard with the coming of the competition.

“It should be really good,” said DiNubile. “We’ve had a lot of talented people already come out. I wanted to get the best of the best in the area.”

DiNubile plans to equip the final judge’s table on June 2 with Indian River High School music director Mark Marvel and band instructor Neil Beahan, two mentors that have helped see her and others in the contest through performances over the years. Local radio station WOCM-98.1 D.J.s B.K. and Lesley will also be on hand to broadcast the final show.

Since bringing her idea to the Chalkboard, the staff and management have been in full support, DiNubile noted.

“It’s a lot of work,” said DiNubile, “but I think it will be a really fun time. [Management] lets me come with my ideas. It benefits the bar and they have yet to tell me ‘no’ on anything.”