UPDATED: Nelson’s Best Singer crowned

Tessa Van Der Holt belted out an Etta James tune and followed it up with a Beatles classic Thursday night at the Capitol Theatre en route to being declared the city’s finest voice.

Tessa Van Der Holt belted out an Etta James tune and followed it up with a Beatles classic Thursday night at the Capitol Theatre en route to being declared the city’s finest voice.

A panel of judges named Van Der Holt, 16, the winner of Nelson’s Best Singer 2011, from among 20 contestants.

Although there was a wide range of ages overall — the youngest singer was 10-year-old Jacob Erickson — the three finalists were all young women. Marleah Lander and Dylann McPherson were runners-up.

Van Der Holt opened with At Last, a song she says was “absolutely perfect” for her voice.

“For my range, Etta James was amazing. And once I started singing it, my Dad came upstairs, and he almost started to cry. He was like ‘You have to do that one.’”

In the final, she sang I Want to Hold Your Hand, using a softer arrangement from the movie Across the Universe. She says she was able to keep her nerves in check.

“I was just excited. Right after I stopped singing, I was like ‘I want to go and do it again.’ It was so much fun.”

The L.V. Rogers student says she has sung at school functions and in church, so is  comfortable in front of an audience, although she has no formal voice training.

While her family expected her to do well, when she heard she was the winner, “I didn’t believe it. It was crazy. Standing back stage, [host Vern Gorham] took so long to announce it, it felt like a year.”

Lander, meanwhile, made the top three despite being a late addition to the line-up. She submitted her name after auditions had already been held, but was offered a spot the night before the show when another singer dropped out.

Lander, 22, chose Sarah McLachlan’s Angel as her opening number, a song she used to sing in high school, and then did All that Jazz in the final.

“It’s a showtune I really like and sing at karaoke with my friends. I knew I wouldn’t mess up the words on that one,” she says.

Lander participated in drama and musicals in high school, although she was never part of a choir, and like Van Der Holt never took voice lessons. She says it’s been a while since she has sung for a large audience: “I hadn’t performed in the Capitol Theatre in a long time. It brought it all back.”

However, it also brought back a severe case of stage fright. “I was so nervous … I was shaking so bad I had to hold the mic with two hands.”

Lander adds she was “blown away” to make the finals.

“There were some amazing singers. I was happy to be in the top three because I didn’t even know I was going to be part of it. I was really excited that I sang well.”

She was thankful for the support of friends and family who came out on short notice and also enjoyed the backstage camaraderie.

McPherson — recently seen as Lucy in this summer’s Capitol youth production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown — accompanied herself on piano, performing an original song, Nonexistent Father, and followed it with Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors in the final.

McPherson, 17, is self-taught on piano and guitar, and doesn’t read music. She is a member of the Corazon youth choir, and has performed at music festivals and school functions.

Although she usually performs originals, the L.V. Rogers student says at first she “kind of regretted” choosing one for the contest, “because once I got there everybody was playing the classics, and I kind of felt I should [too]. But at the same time I’m glad I didn’t because I held true to myself.”

McPherson says she wasn’t worried about singing such an intensely personal song.

“The reason I write music is because I want to get things off my chest,” she says. “I wanted to play that song because my friend’s dad had just left. It’s a big part of my life and I don’t have a lot of regrets with people knowing who I am as a person either.”

She says it was the first time she has performed the song.

She was surprised to make the top three, and adds that it was “great to see my peers winning and being happy with themselves, because they deserved it for sure.”

First prize was $200, second prize $100, and third prize $75.

Gorham organized the contest, based on the success of a similar event in Creston.

“I was really impressed with the talent,” he says. “A number of different people could have made the finals. About five other people were within a point and a half, so it was really, really close.”

Gorham says it went well on the whole, although he will avoid holding next year’s edition in the summer to minimize conflicts with other events.

“There are a few things I’ll do differently next time, but overall I was very pleased with how Nelson received it.”

The judges were 103.5 The Bridge morning man Rob Grant, Creston Valley Advance editor Brian Lawrence, and Karen Jensen, a runner-up in the Creston contest.

They awarded up to nine points for vocal quality, tempo, rhythm, and expression and a final point based on stage presence, charisma, and entertainment value.

Some contestants sang to karaoke tracks, while others accompanied themselves on guitar, piano, bass, or ukulele.

Global TV’s Dan Caverly — who would have been a strong contender had he been in the contest himself — provided some additional entertainment.