FitzGerald’s Side Bar was packed Thursday night for the opening round of Adult Vocal competition for Talent Search 2006. D.J. Mick acted as M.C., energizing the crowd and encouraging the singers. Several performers sparked spontaneous standing ovations and received warm accolades from the judges.

Anna Pappageorge was among the singers who survived the first round. She is an 18-year-old from Oak Park and had the crowd swooning to her jazzy take on “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

“I’ve been singing forever,” she said. “My mom’s a music teacher.”

The veteran of high school musicals loves performing. “It’s awesome to get this opportunity. I could also use the prize money for college.” Besides musical theater, she belongs to an a cappella choir and a jazz ensemble.

The Talent Search is sponsored by Danza Viva and Wednesday Journal.

At FitzGerald’s, Pappageorge quickly overcame her nervousness. “I liked the intimate setting and the crowd was right up on us.” She had natural stage presence and her voice flowed. Having a great smile didn’t hurt. If Pappageorge continues to advance, she’ll find her way back to a place where she’s already performed, FitzGerald’s main stage.

Then Simone Woods took the microphone. The 23-year-old from Chicago had the audience in her hand, as she sashayed through a neo-soul number called “On and On.”

“I’ve been singing my whole life,” Woods said, “talent shows, church services and weddings.” She felt great singing at the Side Bar and didn’t show a hint of nervousness. The judges and audience were impressed enough to vote Woods on to the second round.

Woods works full-time and has no intention of quitting her day job for the stage. “I don’t want to be a career singer,” she said, “but I would like to get some musical training.”

The last person to take the spotlight at the Side Bar was Aaron Gordon. Sporting a perfectly shaped Afro courtesy of the God Is Good Barbershop, Gordon wowed the crowd from start to finish. He performed a song by his musical hero, Stevie Wonder. “I admire Stevie,” Gordon said. “He sings about things he can’t see.”

Gordon’s selection, “If You Really Love Me” is an unusual combination of ballad and up-tempo, and he sold it with his silky moves and incandescent smile. Explaining his love of Wonder’s music, Gordon said, “I’m an old soul. I’m not a big fan of new music.”

The 19-year-old from Chicago is no stranger to talent shows. He was among the five finalists for Fox’s “Chicago Idol” competition. Gordon went on to win the contest and was flown to California to watch two tapings of “American Idol.” More importantly, he attended a workshop on the music business, where he hopes to make a living someday.

Besides FitzGerald’s, Molly Malone’s also served as a setting for the adult vocal competition (Wonder Works Children’s Museum and the Buzz Cafe hosted competitions as well). Katherine Goldberg, 16, from River Forest, was among the performers who sang well enough to advance to the second round. Goldberg specializes in musical theater and soared on an Andrew Lloyd Webber song, “Tell Me On A Sunday.”

She got her first break in fourth grade, playing a street urchin in a Village Player’s production of Oliver. Since then, she’s performed in 20-25 musicals and qualified to attend the prestigious Interlachen Music Camp this summer. She also belongs to “Six Chicks” an a cappella jazz group at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

Her mother, also Katherine Goldberg, was impressed with the competition. “There was camaraderie among the singers,” she said, “They cheered each other on. And the talent search is really showcasing local restaurants.”

One of the judges, Howard McCullom, lead vocalist for the blues band Howard and the White Boys, was impressed with the talent and the crowd. “It was a good-sized crowd for a sunny afternoon,” he said of the gathering at the Irish pub.

McCullom limited his post-performance comments to technical aspects of the singing. “I tried to be realistic and helpful, without saying everyone is great,” said the Forest Park resident. “The singers are young. I don’t want to damage anyone.”

Singers are being judged on their vocal quality, intonation and range, as well as stage presence and creativity. Perhaps the weakest area for many singers is their expressiveness and conviction. McCullom said this was natural because the young vocalists aren’t experienced enough to express deep sentiment. “We want them to tell a story,” he exhorted, “connect with the crowd.”

On being a judge, McCullom said, “It’s been great. The crowds are really into it. Most of the singers I’ve seen have been at the same level, with a few standouts.” Those standouts will be heard from again, as the adult vocal contest moves into its second round in May.

Next up

The First Elimination Round of Talent Search 2006 continues this weekend with Adult and Youth Dance on tap at the 19th Century Club, 178 Forest Ave., Oak Park, 7 p.m. this Friday, April 28; followed by Adult Dance at Slaton’s Supper Club, 144 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, 1 p.m., Saturday, April 29; and Youth Vocals at the Pasta Shoppe, 116 N. Oak Park Ave., 2 p.m., Sunday, April 30. The Final Eliminations take place May 4-6 at four different Oak Park and Forest Park locations, followed by two semifinal rounds the next two weekends, culminating in the finals, May 25, 7 p.m. at FitzGerald’s. For more information, call Danza Viva at 386-8681 or e-mail

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.