Irwin teens advance in talent contest

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Two Irwin teens sang their way into the second round of a popular talent competition.

Claire Fonzo, 14, and Samantha Blank, 17, plan to compete in the semifinals against a dozen other performers on March 17 in the Kean Quest Talent Search in Richland Township.

Claire competed against 30 vocalists from across southwestern Pennsylvania on Jan. 27, while Samantha competed against 22 others in a preliminary round on Feb. 24. The show helps raise funds for the St. Barnabas Health System.

The semifinalists were chosen over the course of five preliminary rounds, with the final preliminary competition scheduled for Sunday, said Megan Hoffman, marketing communications coordinator for St. Barnabas.

They are competing for a chance to win an opportunity to record in a professional recording studio, a photo shoot and voice lessons, Hoffman said.

The Kean Quest Talent Search, then called Kean Idol, helped launch the career of 12-year-old vocalist Jackie Evancho, Hoffman said. She was named first runner-up both times she competed.

Evancho gained national fame by performing on NBC's “America's Got Talent” in 2010, when she took second place.

Organizers of the Kean Quest Talent Search recently began giving the Jackie Evancho Award, acknowledging the courage and perseverance of one contestant.

“Jackie will be there in person to give out the award on April 5,” Hoffman said.

This year marks the second time Claire has advanced in the contest. She advanced to the finals but did not place in the top three performers, she said.

“There were a lot of really good talents of all ages and singing different styles of music,” Claire said. “I was a little nervous because there were people who had performed in previous years with lots of experience.”

Claire said she began singing when she was in the fourth grade and has been taking voice lessons. She also performed at Covenant Hall in Irwin on several occasions, she said.

Each day, she dedicates a portion of each day to practicing for the show, Claire said.

“To get ready, I sing every day, and work on my movements on stage,” she said. “I've been working on (singing) techniques at my voice lessons.”

Samantha said she always has enjoyed singing and first performed in public a few years ago at Norwin Alliance Church. She also took several voice lessons and sang with Norwin High School's chorus, she said.

“I just like singing, since I grew up around a lot of music,” she said. “This is a great experience, and I'm excited to compete.”

During the semifinals, Claire said, she plans to sing “Bubbly,” by Colbie Callait, while Samantha plans to take a different route.

“I'm planning to sing an Alice Cooper song a cappella,” Samantha said. “I don't know which song, but there won't be a chance anybody else will be singing one of his songs.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or

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