Knoxville Idol Brings a Different Crowd Downtown

A crowd gathers for Knoxville’s version of American Idol, April 2011

What in the world is Knoxville Idol? I didn’t know, either, until a recent Friday night when Market Square came alive with a slightly different crowd than we find most nights on the square. Tents were set up lining the center of the Square manned by vocational education teachers from area high schools. Each of the thirteen Knox County high schools had selected a representative from the student body based, I presume, completely on talent. The crowd included many families from little siblings to grandparents, fellow students and the usual curious onlookers, of which I was one.

Making nice in a joint song before the competition

Family, Friends and onlookers watch the competition.

I’ve never watched American Idol, so it’s hard for me to say how precisely they followed the format of the television program, but this program opened with all the contestants singing a song together, followed by individual performances. The talent was variable and power ballads overwhelmingly filled the set list. I wondered if that is common on American Idol. It seemed to me something more exciting might be in order in such a competition.

Fulton High School contestant sings on Market Square Stage, Knoxville.

Almost all the singers were accompanied by pre-recorded music, which made the whole thing feel like karaoke to me. I hate taped music behind a live singer. I have since the first time I heard it, which must have been around 1974. After the performances the judges, who were all accomplished musicians on a national scale, deliberated for about thirty minutes before delivering their verdict.

Knoxville Idol Contestant, Market Square Stage, Knoxville, April 2011
In an example of this town being pretty small, Steve Hunley provided live music in the interim. This is the same Steve Hunley who publishes the Knoxville Focus, which I had never heard of until recently. Apparently he had just run an article intimating that Mayor Burchett was after an $80,000 raise, which Metropulse indicated may have had more to do with their disagreement over the fee-office budget. I don’t know about any of that, but it made for an interesting moment when the music stopped and Mayor Burchett was introduced and immediately thanked his “good friend” Steve Hunley. Isn’t Knoxville special?
Contestants hold their breath as the winner is announced.

Mayor Burchett then announced that Kevyn Meheula of West High School took the very nice grand prize which included, among other things, a recording session in Nashville. I couldn’t disagree with the choice; she was a competent a singer and she had more stage presence than most. I did have to wonder how much culture influences all of us, though: She was a pretty, thin, somewhat photogenic white girl. She fits the Nashville profile. Would Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith or even Bob Dylan have a chance in today’s vapid musical environment? She was joined onstage by her posse for an encore of her winning song as the other contestants and their families drifted off into the night.

Kevyn Meheula reprises the winning selection backed by her posse.