With so much musical talent descending on Savannah, it would be misguided to see the American Traditions Competition as a hidden event in the city, especially as the competition continues to grow into a year-round extravaganza.
Artistic Director Mikki Sodergren said this year is no exception with a vast array of talent among the 28 contestants in this year’s competition. “This year is going to be such an exciting group of singers, so many of them are new as well as a lot of familiar faces,” she said.
“I think that people will enjoy a really nice time, and experience some great new music and some familiar songs, as well.”
At 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb.18 and Wednesday, Feb. 19, the 28 quarterfinalists will perform three diverse, American songs each at Skidaway Island United Methodist Church (SIUMC) in the hopes of advancing to the semifinals. The first half of contestants competes for a spot in the semifinals on Tuesday, and the remaining contestants will put it all on the line on Wednesday.
As a veteran of ATC herself, Sodergren said she loves that ATC is less of a cut-throat competition and more of an incubator of talent — with each of the contestants learning from one another and the judges rather than trying to jump over each other for victory. “There are so many variables...the stylistic change between (one contestant) and someone else doesn't make them any less (as) everyone is super talented,” she said. “I just try to encourage them to not get hung up on the results of the competition, rather celebrate each other.”
The contestants, along with the public, will be treated to extensive time with a trio of accomplished judges from around the country as Janis Siegel, Jubilant Sykes and Morgan James come to Savannah to judge the competition. Siegel is a member of The Manhatten Transfer and a seventeen-time Grammy nominee, nine-time winner while Sykes comes as a one-time Grammy nominee and accomplished Baritone, and James as a Julliard-trained singer, actress and songwriter.
James is also a veteran of ATC and said she’s excited to work from the other side of the aisle this year. “I really love to teach and coach, and mentor younger singers or singers that are in a place in their career where they want to make advancements. I'm really have a vested interest in very diverse singers and singers that have a lot of different interests and backgrounds.”
She added that she loves ATC because it offers listeners a variety of styles and genres, which makes the experience even more rewarding. “I would much rather go to the ATC events rather than other singing competitions because there's a little bit more variety,” she said. “It's not like you're getting the same thing from each singer.”
Sykes can’t argue with that assessment and said he’s excited to judge these performers from a wide variety of backgrounds. “You want (the contestants) to feel a sense of support so that they are being the best they can be. The more artists there are, the greatest possibility of us continuing (on) this glorious path,” he said.
He added that while the different styles may pose a difficult time for him as a judge, he is looking more for these performers to show up as their most authentic selves. “I think all of us...when we leave our own (space), we put on a mask of something other than ourselves,” he said.
“ I think as an artist there comes a time when you have to learn how to remove that (mask) and be the most transparent you can be without losing technique (and) without losing control.”
The top performers will compete for honors, prizes and the all-important ATC Gold Medal during the final round on Friday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m., at the Savannah Cultural Center/Ben Tucker Theatre, located at 201 Montgomery Street.
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