Punch your ticket to Nashville in country singing contest

The next big singing sensation in country music could be living in our midst, waiting to be discovered. He or she has their chance in the Colgate Country Showdown.

This national contest, in its 28th year, is sponsored locally by KGY 96.9 FM. Smilin' Jack, a disc jockey at the country radio station in Olympia, noted that Brad Paisley took his career to another level after winning the competition one year. "A lot of talented people have come up through this," he said. "We welcome anyone with the courage to get up and perform in front of an audience."

Johnny's at Fife is one of the venues hosting the local rounds in this region. It began June 13 and will continue on June 20 and 27, and July 11 and 18 with the competition beginning at 9 p.m.

At some venues around the country singers perform with a live band at the local level. At many, such as Johnny's, they do karaoke. The winners of the first four evenings at Johnny's will face off on July 18, with the winner of that round advancing to the next level, which will take place at Mason County Fair. That winner and other winning singers from around Washington will compete for the state title at Evergreen State Fair at Monroe. State winners move on to one of five regional competitions, which decides who moves on to the national final in Nashville next January. LeAnn Rimes will host this event, which will be at the historic Ryman Auditorium and televised to a national audience. The winner gets the grand prize of $100,000 and the chance to catch the attention of record labels in the country capital of the world.

Once contestants make it to Mason County Fair and each level on up, they will be backed by a live band.

"I am honored they asked us to do this," said Candy Lynn, the karaoke hostess at Johnny's. She expects the contest will draw a combination of karaoke regulars at the bar and people with some experience singing with a live band.

Cost to enter is $15. This is a one-time fee, meaning contestants can enter each weekend for one price. Those wishing to compete should show up a bit before 9 p.m. to register.

A uniform system for judging is used at contests around the nation. Contestants are judged in several categories, including vocal ability, stage presence and marketability, assigned scores between zero and 10 in each.

A tiebreaker formula is in place and had to be employed in the first round. Blaine Sherfinski and Tyler Paige were tied after the judges' ballots were tabulated. The first tiebreaker is talent, and both singers had the exact score when the totals in this category were added up. It went to the second tiebreaker, stage presence, and Sherfinski edged Paige by a few points to win the first round.

Sherfinski, a Port Orchard resident, sang "Brand New Girlfriend" by Steve Holy. He does karaoke on a regular basis and has never sung in a band. He works as a union official and is not fazed by speaking in front of audiences of several thousand people. "That is not a problem for me, but singing in front of people took some getting used to," Sherfinski said.

Normally he sings ballads when doing karaoke. "Country is a new genre for me," he said. "I am very excited. It is such a thrill that people appreciate my singing."

Paige, who lives in Spanaway, has never been in a band. He used to do karaoke a lot but has not done it much since his wife had a baby. He heard about the contest on KGY and decided to give it a shot. He performed "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" by Toby Keith. Paige sings just for fun but based on the fact he nearly won the first round he may come back to compete again. If so, he probably will sing a Johnny Cash tune, he said.

He likes country but has a wide taste in music. "I listen to everything."

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