Families gathered on the peninsula of the Sparks Marina, gazing toward the tented stage where singers belted popular country tunes and some hidden gems of music during the Sparks Idol competition, which then merged into the talent portion where dancing teams, one-man shows and everything in between began showcasing their non-vocal crafts.
The event attracted 39 performers, which is about five less than some previous years, who took turns exciting the crowd and a panel of local judges. Julia Curtis, a 16-year-old Reed High School student, competed in her fifth Sparks Idol contest Thursday and said she has seen an evolution in the event.
“It has been great,” she said. “There has been a lot more people and a lot of different fun acts that are very fun to watch.”
Curtis said she embraced the “country girl” role for her song “Mama’s Broken Heart” by Miranda Lambert and she said dressing up for the song is just as important as her vocals to paint the whole picture of her act.
“I chose Miranda Lambert because I am a country girl and I like singing country, and I like wearing the boots,” Curtis said with a laugh. “I guess it is my genre so I picked a song that was upbeat from that area.”
While the country genre was well represented on stage, some contestants chose to stray from traditional musical categories, like 21-year-old Jaake Castro. The Reno resident said he chose Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” because of its odd nature and sentimental lyrics.
“I was always a weird kid growing up and I think Tiny Tim had a really weird song and he was a really weird guy,” Castro said. “The lyrics behind it are super beautiful and it is all about wanting to be in love with someone but thinking you are too weird to make it happen. I had a lot of connection to it so I thought if I slowed it down people could actually know the lyrics.”
Castro said he has been auditioning for American Idol and similar competitions across the country, trying to get his musical act noticed. After spending time cutting his first single, “Around,” in Reno he said being able to have some hometown support at his performance helped ease some tension.
“Everyone is surprisingly really talented and I have loved all the performances so far,” Castro said. “It's been really good. I am just really glad everyone has been so friendly and they have really kept me going. Reno is really good about being family oriented and being friendly with kids. When I audition in LA and New York City, it is such a tough time being from Reno.
“I keep to myself before auditions just because when I am in other cities, in my experience, I don't really want to talk to everyone. So it is part of my routine. But here, there are some really experienced people, who have some mastered class in how to perform and I am really learning a lot.”
As the contestants sat waiting for their turn to take the stage, they had a chance to mingle and discuss their approach, which inevitably led to an exchange of advice from the experienced to the novices. Diana Hoffman, at age 66, was the oldest participant and she was in the show for the second time. The everyday lawyer and Sparks resident displayed her rendition of “Italian Street Song” by Victor Herbert, which strayed very much from her country themed counterparts.
“I knew that we had a lot of young singers so this was sort of to switch the genre,” Hoffman said. “We have such a wide diverse group of talent. In Reno, with Artown you see so much of it and it is nice to see everybody coming out to do different things.
“I love the view and I love the fact the contestants this year are more diverse and that they are not afraid to get up there. That is really the key because it is not easy to get up there.”
Hoffman said she offered as much advice as she could to many of the younger performers and tried to instill a sense of joy in the competition.
“I indicated to one young gal that it is not about singing loud it is about singing on key,” she said. “I told her to just remember, when you go up there, just have joy in your heart. That is all you need.”
Sparks City Councilwoman Julia Ratti was taking in the Sparks Marina festivities Thursday afternoon and she said seeing a great turnout for the daytime events displayed what she has come to love about Sparks.
“I love it,” Ratti said. “It is kind of fun to be sharing this in a small city of America. We are doing our own Idol contest. It is great and I love the fact that a little bit of heat didn't scare off any folks of Sparks. They are still going to come out, have fun and celebrate their country. I love seeing the different flags and patriotic outfits. This is why we love Sparks. Seeing the families out here all having fun is so great.”