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Judge tells what it takes to do well in Kean Quest talent search

Jackie Evancho, a Kean Idol finalist and runner-up on 'America's Got Talent,' presented the third annual Jackie Evancho Award to Paige Hurbanek of Cranberry Township.
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 11:48 a.m.

Pick a familiar song and dress modestly if you plan to enter the 2014 Kean Quest Talent Search.

“If you're a 12-year-old singing a Pink song, I'd dock you if you came out in something skimpy,” said Mike Evancho, father of superstar singer Jackie Evancho.

Jackie, now 13 and touring, will help her father judge the 2014 Kean Quest competition, as they did last year.

“Contestants should pick a song not only familiar to their audience but familiar to them,” Mike Evancho said. “This will help relax them a bit.

“Nerves are normal,” he said. “Jackie has probably over 100 performances under her belt. ... She still gets nervous before a performance.”

Jackie's latest engagement took her to Arizona for a Jan. 18 concert at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix.

Amateur singers of all ages may enter the 2014 Kean Quest Talent Search, which opened Jan. 26 and continues through April 11 at the Kean Theatre in Richland.

Preliminary rounds for singers ages 18 and younger are set for 2 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2 p.m. on March 2 and 2 p.m. on March 16.

Semifinal competitions for the same age group are set for 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on March 30.

Competition for singers ages 19 and older is set for 7 p.m. on April 4.

A youth champion will be selected in a final round of competition for ages 18 and younger at 7 p.m. on April 11.

Entering the contest should be a child's wish, not a parent's idea, according to Mike Evancho.

“If it's not the person's passion, they're not going to do it well,” he said.

“When I'm judging, I'm looking for originality, first and foremost,” Mike Evancho said.

He then considers whether a song best showcases a singer's vocal range.

What if your voice lacks a lot of range?

“Then you want to pick a song that you can turn into a performance. ... You want to pick a song that you connect with,” he said. “As a judge, you want to see more than just a singer.”

Appearance also is important.

“They should dress appropriately,” said Robin Taylor, spokeswoman for St. Barnabas Health System and a former WPXI reporter.

“They should be careful of skimpy outfits,” Taylor said. “Just because it works in Hollywood doesn't mean it works here.”

To relax on stage, Taylor recommends singing as if singing to a loved one or good friend.

“Try to envision somebody you're close to, and sing to them.” Taylor said.

Acting and singing teachers from local performing-arts studios will join Jackie and Mike Evancho as judges for the 2014 Kean Quest Talent Search.

“There's no commentary that's given after performances,” Taylor said.

“Judges simply write down their comments, and their scores, but none of that is shared with the contestants.

“We want this to be a fun experience for contestants. ... It's not a brutal singing competition,” Taylor said. “We know most of the contestants have never performed before for a live audience.”

Contestants must provide their own recorded backup music, or accompany themselves on a musical instrument. Songs can be up to four minutes long. The entry fee is $30.

Top prizes include a recording session at Audible Images in Ross Township and the Jackie Evancho Award for a persevering, repeat contestant.

Jackie twice competed and earned runner-up honors in the talent search, which benefits the St. Barnabas Health System.

“She didn't let that beat her down,” said Mike Evancho. “If anything, it gave her more determination.”

A former student at Eden Hall Elementary School in Pine, Jackie first performed in public at the former Kean Idol event, now known as the Kean Quest Talent Search.

“It kind of sparked her passion,” said her dad.

“From that point on, she knew that she loved being in front of an audience.”

People may register for the Kean Quest Talent Search by phone or enter online at

For information, call 724-625-3770.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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