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Summer Stars Light Up Island Center

Aug. 25, 2007 — Maria Carmona, a 24-year-old St. Croix-born chanteuse, won first prize in the First Express Crucian Summer Star singing contest Friday at Island Center.
The judges took some time tabulating the results and determining a winner. Contestants as young as 13 came and sang with the verve, style and skill of seasoned professionals, making ranking difficult. It was shortly after 11 p.m. when announcer Rashidi Clenance and event coordinator Eugene “Doc” Petersen brought the six contestants onstage together.
While waiting for the final verdict, Clenance persuaded the young ladies to sing back up while he sang the lead of Boyz II Men’s hit “To the End of the Road,” with the Quiet Fire band providing backup. Then Clenance was handed a piece of paper with the winners.
First they announced the third place winner: Elizabeth Nieves, 17, to the cheers of the crowd. Nieves had sung Alicia Keyes’ “Fallen,” then Whitney Houston’s “Run to You.”
Kristine Sarran, just 13 years old, took second place.
“It was a really great experience,” Sarran said after her final song, before she knew how she had done. “I’ve never experienced anything like it, with the lights and all the people in the audience. I’ve always loved music and singing.”
“It’s true,” said her mother Glenda Sarran. “She sleeps with her MP3 player.” Sarran said she wouldn’t have been there without the help and support of her father Kenneth.
When it was announced that Carmona had won first place, the audience erupted into cheers and the other five girls each gave her a hug before she came to the microphone to accept her prize.
Carmona, who has worked professionally, won the judges over with soulful renditions of Tanya Stephens’ “To the Limit” and Selena’s hit “Como La Flor," showing range and feeling in two languages.
Petersen, a well-known musician himself as well as president of Island Center’s board of directors, spoke before the trophies and plaques were given out.
“On a small island of 55,000 we have got to support young people striving to excel,” Petersen said. “A lot of talent has come out to the world from this place. Everyone knows Tim Duncan, of course. In the world of horse racing we’ve had an impact too. Some 10 or 20 important jockeys from here, and that is another major professional sport.”
Friday’s competition was the culmination of a series of four elimination rounds. The contest, modeled after the television show “American Idol,” aimed to give a boost to young talent, helping to launch them into the public eye and into successful careers in music. (See "Finals of Crucian Summer Star Competition Coming Friday")
“We are looking for the next Harry Belafonte,” Petersen said. “You guys don’t know him but the people my age know him well. Or another Sidney Poitier. There is a deep pool of talent here in the Caribbean that the world is waiting to see.”
Carmona won a $1,500 cash prize and will get to produce her own record. Nieves and Sarran received cash prizes as well.
“First Express really stepped up to the plate,” Petersen said of the finance company which sponsored the competition. “Not just for this, but regularly, with Sunset Jazz for instance. They really stand behind St. Croix and its youth.”
After the awards were given, the speeches and thank-yous over, Carmona sang one last time, bringing the audience to its feet despite the late hour with a little more of Tanya Stephens’ rhythms and lyrics.
Isabella Sylvester, Tyiesha Benjamin and Chantal Harrigan were the other three singers who triumphed in the previous elimination rounds to compete Friday. Petersen said he hope the Crucian Summer Stars competition would be an annual summer event from here out.
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