Young Cranberry, Mars vocalists reach singing contest finals

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Alexandria Veneziano, who won the Audience Choice Award in the semifinals, and Kaylee Bechtold each entered the Kean Quest Talent Search singing competition for their first time as they competed against 123 other youths.

For their first appearances, making it to the finals was a huge confidence builder for both teens who plan to come back again next year.

“I wanted to try to start my singing career at 13 and then 14, and then at 15 I decided I needed to start somewhere,” Alexandria said. “I've wanted to be a professional singer since I was two-years-old. I still want to always keep up my academics, but singing will always be my dream.”

Alexandria, 15, of Cranberry sang “No One” by Alicia Keys in the first two rounds and “Titanium” by David Guetta in the finals. It was the first time she'd sang in front of a live crowd.

“I love singing slow songs,” she said. “I was definitely nervous and did this to really try to build confidence on stage and develop stage presence, and I felt more and more comfortable the further we went.”

The two songs Kaylee, 11, of Mars sang came from musicals. In the first two rounds she sang “My Favorite Things”, and in the finals she sang “Popular” from the musical “Wicked.”

“I always sing a few of My Favorite Things around the house, so I chose that first,” Kaylee said. “I liked ‘Popular', because I just saw ‘Wicked' and was inspired by it.”

Kaylee's choices weren't a surprise given her experience in theater and aspirations to perform on Broadway. She has performed in several plays already and will be in “Dorothy” in the Jeter Backyard Theater's production of the Wizard of Oz.

“I was surprised I made it to the finals, because there were so many great singers,” she said.

Kaylee plans to continue taking vocal and theater lessons at the Jeter Backyard Theater and learning the piano at Eisenreich Piano Studios. Alexandria has begun to teach herself on the piano and acoustic guitar and has started to look for a vocal coach.

Proceeds from the competition, originated in 2003 by the late Greg Maggio of North Park Clubhouse, go to St. Barnabas' Free Care Fund for patient care.

According to Marketing Communications Manager Shelli Sommariva, the Kean Quest Talent Search raised $54,514 this year.

“In addition to being a fundraising event, we have a lot of contestants say it's a great for those who like to perform to test the waters and get experience,” Sommariva said. “We see many of them come back and improve and work on things to try to do better. In the end, it's a great opportunity for everyone.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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