Sunday, July 26, 2015

Great American Songbook contest finishes its sixth year at the Palladium with top prize going to a nearby singer


Lucas DeBard, a 2015 graduate of Lebanon High School, got a slightly delayed graduation present Saturday night when he became this year's Great American Songbook Youth Ambassador — the top prize of the annual Songbook Academy and Competition.

DeBard's self-possessed performance of "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" tucked in an updating apt for the age of digital social media. In his second appearance of the evening program at the Palladium, he combined two songs about dreams, using "I'll See You in My Dreams" as his main vehicle.
Lucas DeBard, 2015 Youth Ambassador

Basically a tenor, he had an attractive sound in all registers, with no apparent break. His stage presence was as secure as any of his peers — a group of ten finalists selected from among the 40 "all-stars" who swelled the Academy portion of the weeklong vocal seminar. (All 40 were heard to good effect, backed by a little big band, in a couple of choral numbers,  "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "You're Gonna Hear From Me.")

The field seems to get stronger as the selection process widens. Arrangements and piano accompanists were first-class. This year the selection range included all 48 contiguous states; 16 of them were represented in the "all-stars" group. Each of the finalists had the two required interpretations down pat. A stunning amount of maturity and poise was evident in their performances.

Two other award-winners — their prize titles not especially revealing of their distinctive qualities —
Hannah Vogelsang
also impressed me during the two-hour-forty-five-minute show. Named Celebration winner, Hannah Vogelsang of Haslett, Mich., put a personal stamp on "Miss Otis Regrets," the sly Cole Porter song of retribution for betrayal in love, and "I'm Just a Square in a Social Circle," a dated, hyperactive Betty Hutton number that she amazingly made captivating.

The other prize performances were turned in by Inspiration winner Cate Hayman of Mill Valley, Calif. A self-confident blonde of the sort once described as "statuesque," she sang "I Got It Bad and That's Ain't Good" and "The Man I Love" as though she owned them. Her belting voice in the latter was controlled and authentic, not over-the-top emotive in the "American Idol" manner, fortunately.

Cate Hayman
Other performances among the finalists I found especially appealing: Drew Mabusth's calculating, slow-burning "Fever" (hints of Peggy Lee were kept at a distance, but Etta James uncomfortably haunted her rendition of "At Last") and both of Madelyn Steuer's performances —  personalized and intense versions of two contrasting songs, "Everything I've Got Is Yours" and "P.S. I Love You."

I also need to give a nod to another of the men, Adam Kruschwitz, whose understated account of "When Sunny Gets Blue" reminded me a bit of the pre-self-destructive Chet Baker, but with a more firmly centered tone. This is the kind of song, and the kind of singing, that it's good to hear this competition encouraging; it has a worthy place alongside more demonstrative vocalism.


Here are links to my posts wrapping up the competitions of 2013 and 2014.