Teen Idols rock Columbia

Annual contest offers kids and community a chance to shine

October 17, 2007|By Lisa Silverman | Lisa Silverman,Sun Reporter

Ally Ulmer's first public performance was at age 8 when she sang Sheryl Crow songs at a family picnic, accompanied on the guitar by her dad.

Now a seventh-grader at Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville, the 13-year-old stood in front of a crowd at Columbia's lakefront and won the fifth annual Columbia Teen Idol competition with her powerful rendition of Carrie Underwood's hit song "I'll Stand By You."

"I'm so excited," said Ally, who lives in Marriottsville. "It's always a relief when I finish performing, but it's still definitely something I want to continue in the future because I always have so much fun." She finished in second place at last year's contest.

Judy Martin, Ally's aunt and godmother, echoed her enthusiasm after Saturday's competition.

"I'm so proud of her," said Martin, who lives in Bel Air. "I can't even express my excitement in words. I'd be doing cartwheels right now if they'd let me."

Harper's Choice Middle School seventh-grader Sarah Mary Stephens of Columbia won second place. All the winning contestants were singers.

Skye Bennett, a sophomore at Wilde Lake High School, had finished in second and third place in previous competitions; she continued her streak by being named one of two third-place winners this year.

"I'm a member of the Columbia Association Teen Advisory Committee," Skye said. "I've participated before and will continue to compete because it's a great opportunity and a lot of fun. I hope the community continues to put on events like this."

The competition drew about 100 spectators to the lakefront in Columbia to watch 12 middle school and high school students showcase their talents. The participants had passed through auditions to get there.

Organized by the Columbia Teen Advisory Committee and the Columbia Teen Center, the competition serves as a platform to support the vision of Columbia's founder, James W. Rouse, according to Shelia Green, communications specialist for the Columbia Association.

"We really wanted to give students the opportunity to showcase their talents," Green said. "The community should embrace young people. They are an integral part of our community."

Calvin Ball, Howard County Council chairman, and Maggie Brown, president of the Columbia Association, shared that sentiment.

"I think that our youth are our future," Ball said. "It is our responsibility to support them. Their voices are extremely important."

"We need to invest in our youth today," Brown said. "As a leader, I want to do anything I can when it comes to improving programs for youth. It's crucial."

Performers like Jorge Arnedo of Columbia were eager to showcase their voices.

"The competition is a great idea. It lets people show their talent and feel supported," said Jorge, a seventh-grader at Cradlerock School.

"We came to this country eight years ago to receive better health care for our son, who has spina bifida," said his father, also named Jorge Arnedo. "It's great to see a community that provides this type of opportunity for kids to pursue their talents." Other friends and family members came out to support young Jorge.

"He's a very persistent and talented kid," said Angie Vecino, a friend of Jorge's and a freshman at Howard Community College. "Columbia is a community unlike any other community because it gave Jorge this opportunity to pursue his dream."

Gina Manuel, a Columbia resident, also voiced her support for the contest.

"You hear about so many negative things going on in the community," Manuel said. "I heard about the competition and decided it would be a great thing for me to bring my 14-year-old son to. It's a lot of fun."

Students also gave the competition high marks.

"It was a great event," said Brian Humphreys, a senior at Atholton High School. "It was fun to hang out and watch people perform. I'm missing homecoming for this."

Brian, along with the other spectators, watched Brown present the winners with certificates and prizes.

For finishing in first place, Ally received an Apple iPod and the opportunity to appear on the cable television show Columbia Matters. Sarah received a $100 gift certificate to The Mall in Columbia and a month of free dance lessons. Skye shared third place with Aaron Spain Bey, an eighth-grader at Clarksville Middle School. Each received a free month of dance lessons from Savage Dance Company, and a $50 gift certificate to The Mall in Columbia.

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