Undeterred by the stage fright that paralyzes many of us, Carrie Schwebl relishes the spotlight, hoping for any opportunity to share her spirited pop-country voice with a sea of faces. She has sung the National Anthem at Soldier Field for the Chicago Fire, the Oak Brook Polo Grounds, DePaul University athletic games and has performed multi-song set lists at Fitzgerald’s Singer Spotlight in Berwyn, Ill.
But it’s her latest effort that may provide some key exposure to Chicago’s major music figures.
Schwebl, 19, is a DePaul University student by day and an aspiring pop star in her downtime. The Forest Park native has taken the right steps in realizing that goal as she competes in Fox News Chicago’s singing competition “Chicago Idol.” Based on the colossally popular “American Idol,” “Chicago Idol” is a condensed version restricted to residents from Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana between the ages 16 to 28. The grand prize winner receives a trip for two to Hollywood to attend the final two shows of “American Idol.”
But, when Fox contacted Schwebl about performing live on television for “Chicago Idol,” she had no idea why they had called. Oddly enough, Schwebl is contending for the title without ever personally sending in the required application and audition tape.
“My best friend’s brother has been sending in tapes of my performances for me over the last couple years,” Schwebl said. “So, when Fox called the day before I was to sing live on Fox News Chicago, I didn’t even know about it.”
That morning, Schwebl left her college apartment in the city and traveled to a Franklin Park McDonald’s to perform on live television. With little or no time to prepare, the unknowing contestant chose a familiar song, Christina Aguilera’s “Reflections.”
“During the ‘Chicago Idol’ performance, I was more excited than nervous,” Schwebl said. “I’ve definitely done better, but, for being at school and waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get there, I give myself credit.”
Schwebl still has to wait until early May to find out if she has made it to the final round. After Fox producers select the finalists, each will have an individual performance in the studio, followed by a final performance on May 14 when the guest judges will announce the winner.
Like its inspiration, “Chicago Idol” has become very popular among its regionalized audience, and David Viggiano, Fox News Chicago entertainment reporter and the organizer of “Chicago Idol,” said he has viewed some 500 audition tapes.
“Since ‘American Idol’ has only come through Chicago twice for auditions, we try to expose Chicago singers and their talent with ‘Chicago Idol,'” Viggiano said. “But, it’s very hard to narrow the finalists down among the hundreds of tapes we receive.”
If Schwebl advances to the final round, she will gain significant exposure in the Chicago music industry. The judges are all DJs at major Chicago radio stations, such as B96, KISS FM, and WGCI.
“The DJs are from three different radios stations, but each hip,” Viggiano said. “They know what’s marketable. We try to get people in the industry that can give good, positive feedback. We want it to encourage emerging talent.”
Schwebl’s talent, however, doesn’t seem to require any encouragement. It took only a few years to cultivate her interest in singing. Like most, Schwebl’s passion emerged at a very young age. Listening to Disney soundtracks like “The Little Mermaid,” Schwebl began to mimic the songs she listened to.
“As soon as she could talk, she could sing,” her mother Karen Schwebl said. “She never was afraid of getting up and singing in front of people.”
With such a lifelong passion, it’s unlikely Schwebl will abandon singing, or be discouraged if she is not chosen for the final round.
“Singing as a career is my American dream,” she said. “I know that staying in school is more realistic and acts as something to fall back on. Regardless of what happens, I’ll still stay involved with singing in some way.”