EASTPOINTE — The backroom of Cloverleaf Restaurant was filled with the friends, families and well-wishers for 13 young singers competing in the semifinal rounds of the Cruisin’ Gratiot Idol Contest.
Hailing from across southeast Michigan, the age-13-and-younger semifinalists sang a mix of country, pop, soul, ballads and show tunes. They tasked the panel of three judges with a difficult decision and kept the packed Eastpointe restaurant entertained for hours.
Before handing over her tally sheets, Eastpointe resident and semifinals Idol judge Nora Cassidy, the 2013 cruise grand marshal, shared with the audience how hard it was to rate the performers that night because they were all so talented.
“These kids were all wonderful, each and every one of them, and they all need to be commended,” Cassidy said.
It was a sentiment shared by many at the youth semifinals.
“These kids are one of my favorite parts of the cruise — some of these kids are really talented, amazing,” said Karen Arondoski, Cruisin’ Gratiot president.
Idol organizer and Cruisin’ Gratiot past-president Carol Corrie knew it would be a difficult decision when she decided to add a few side prizes to the contest semifinals this year.
“They’re good, aren’t they?” Corrie asked with a knowing smile. “I think they’re all great and we want them to walk away feeling great. We want them to walk away positive, so we try to give them as many gifts as we can. Not just about singing, but about stage presence, costume and smile so they can walk away with a positive look at everything.”
Corrie and the crew at Cloverleaf did their best to make sure all the kids there knew just how talented they were, but just after 9 p.m., the judges had made their decision, and even the youngest performers understood that not all 13 of them would be moving on to the next round.
Before announcing the winners, host Laura Luchtman offered the anxious audience some welcome news.
“It was very close — one through five were within one to two points of each other — that’s how close it was, and we had two kids who tied. So,” Luchtman said, drawing out the word for heightened anticipation, “we finagled some things and we decided we are going to take seven to the finals instead of five!”
The announcement sent a cheer through the room, but it wasn’t long before silence fell over the crowd and the Cruisin’ Gratiot 2013 Idol finalists were announced: singing “Part of Your World” from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” 11-year-old Cassidy Mandel, of Marine City; singing Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet,” 12-year-old Saint Clair Shores resident D’essence Castro; singing Nora Jones’ “Don’t Know Why,” Interlochen Arts camp scholarship winner Emma Guzman; singing “Ain’t No Other Man,” 10-year-old Abby Smolinski, of Macomb Township; singing Carrie Underwood’s “Wasted,” 10-year-old Dempsii Rosales, of Taylor; singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” 12-year-old Charlene Yarema, of Ray Township; and singing “Hallelujah,” ballad-loving singer and pianist Shane Mackenzie.
The award for best smile went to Rosales; best costume to Mackenzie, who was dressed from head to toe in an all-white tuxedo; and best stage performance to Smolinski.
Although more than half of the semifinalists became finalists that night, there was no shortage of talent or passion in those who did not. Monday night was bittersweet for Tenia Yaremo — all three of her daughters made the semifinals, but only the oldest, Charlene, is moving on to the finals.
“Audrey took it the hardest,” Yaremo said of her middle daughter. “She has the most passion and she works the hardest. Vivian just does it to do it. She can take it or leave it. Charlene is just naturally talented. We noticed from a young age, Charlene could mimic anything she heard on the radio.”
Although 9-year-old Audrey Yaremo was upset that she didn’t make it to the finals, she said she is going to try again next year.
“I like the Idol contest because it is competitive and I like competitive things,” Audrey Yaremo said.
Seven-year-old Vivien Yaremo seemed undeterred.
“I knew the whole song by heart,” she chirped of her “Les Miserables” song choice, “Castle on a Cloud,” just a couple of days after the semifinals. She, too, said she’ll be back again next year. “I don’t know why I like to sing. I just do.”
As for Charlene Yaremo, in the days that followed the semifinals, she put her excitement on hold to practice for the finals.
“I’m a total ‘Gleek,’” Charlene Yaremo said. “I watch ‘Glee’ all the time, and when I heard Leah Michele sing ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ — it was originally sung by Barbra Streisand — I thought, “I have to sing this. I have been practicing — I actually just did singing lessons today — and I’ll be practicing again before the finals.”
The Yaremo family is sharing in Charlene’s excitement. It’s the same for all the finalists’ families. And that’s one of the reasons Corrie and Cloverleaf Restaurant Owner Marie Easterby say they do it.
“I think it is great,” Corrie said. “I think it is a lot of fun. I think it’s great to see the parents happy when their kids are up there, and I think it’s great to see the excitement with the kids.”
“I love the Idol contest — it’s something that the parents and kids really look forward to,” Easterby said. “I’m sure Idol has brought in some new customers, I’m sure it’s good for the restaurant, but that’s not why we do it — we do it for the families and the community. I think if you are a business in the community, you must support the community.”
The teen semifinals were scheduled to be held after press time at Cloverleaf June 10. The youth and teen Cruisin’ Idol finals are at Cloverleaf Restaurant at 2:30 p.m. June 15. Tickets include a pizza buffet and are $15 for adults and $10 for children in the lounge and main dining room, where the contest will take place.
For more information, visit www.cloverleafrestaurant.com or call (586) 777-5391.
And just down the street, the Cruisin’ Gratiot Adult Idol finals kick off at 3 p.m. June 15 at the East Detroit High School parking lot on the main stage.
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