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Lone Star State native is American Songbook vocal competition winner

Maddie Baillio (pictured in background: Marc Cherry and Sylvia McNair)
Maddie Baillio (pictured in background: Marc Cherry and Sylvia McNair)
Perry Reichanadter

“Misty” and “Murder, He Says” turned out to be ideal song choices for 18-year old Maddie Baillio, the winner of the 2014 Great American Songbook Vocal Academy and Competition, an annual week-long event that culminated with a final concert, Friday, July 25, at the Palladium in Carmel, Ind.

Maddie Baillio
Maddie Baillio
Perry Reichanadter

Baillio, a native of League City, Texas, is a recent graduate of Clear Falls High School. As the first place winner, she receives $3,000 and the opportunity to perform with entertainer Michael Feinstein, founder of The Great American Songbook Foundation which sponsors the competition. As winner, Baillio will serve as the Great American Songbook Youth Ambassador for one year and have opportunities to perform throughout the year.

The second place winner was Nia Savoy, Shreveport, La., who won the Songbook Inspiration Award. Third place went to Grayson Samuels, St. Petersburg, Fla., who won the Songbook Celebration award. Each received $1,000 towards continuing music education.

Nine other high school vocalists participated in the event which is the only U.S. competition dedicated solely to the music from Broadway and Hollywood musicals and the Tin Pan Alley era of the early to mid-twentieth century. They included Paige Brown (Indianapolis, Ind.), Jacob Stuckert (Grove City, Ohio), Nick Drivas (Palmetto, Fla.), Milla Guerra (Chicago, Ill.), Molly Hernandez (Glen Ellyn, Ill.), Merissa Beddows (Yonkers, N.Y.), Claire Dickson (Medford, Mass.), Jordan Plutzer (San Carlos, Calif.) and Christina (San Anselmo, Calif.).

Mentors and judges this year who chose the first through third place winners included Grammy Award-winning jazz singer Cheryl Bentyne from Manhattan Transfer; Marc Cherry, “Desperate Housewives” and "Devious Maids" creator, television producer, and Songbook aficionado; Michael Feinstein, competition founder and five-time Grammy nominee; and Sylvia McNair, two-time Grammy Award winner and regional Emmy Award winner.

“The 12 finalists were all very talented this year. Maddie’s versatility set her apart early on in the competition. Not only does she have a beautiful voice and musicality, as she displayed with her rendition of ‘Misty,’ but she has impressive comic chops, which she showed in her performance of Frank Loesser’s, ‘Murder, He Says.’ She is well on her way to becoming a dynamic performer,” said Michael Feinstein about Baillio.

Examiner.com recently spoke by phone with the newly named Great American Songbook Youth Ambassador from her home in Texas.

How did you come about your song choices?

I have always been a huge Betty Hutton fan. I guess I spent too much time on Youtube one day and I saw a video of her singing “Murder, He Says.” Since it is a really cheerful and funny song, I had to have a song that contrasted with it. I have always loved the song “Misty." Johnny Mathis sang it as did Ella Fitzgerald and since it was more of a ballad I thought it would be perfect.

What is your assessment of the level of quality of your fellow competitors?

The talent of my fellow competitors ranged from operatic sopranos to Broadway belters to scatters. The talent was almost overwhelming. I wouldn't want to be a judge. We were told throughout the week that this was the most diverse and talented group there has been.

How valuable were the suggestions and tips you received from the mentors?

I will apply every piece of advice that was given by the mentors to future performances. There was no mediocrity or grey area when the mentors helped us with our songs. During Catherine Walker Adams' (University of Michigan) workshop, she had us massage our larynx and put our bodies in positions to help our breath flow and we could all hear an immediate difference in each other's songs.

What was it like singing at the Palladium?

There were over a thousand people in the house. I had never performed in front of an audience that big and that knowledgeable of this kind of music. It was a once in a lifetime chance to sing at a venue like that and it was amazing.

How did it feel?

For the first act, I was the second person to go. Molly Hernandez sang before me and she sang a beautiful up tempo song and then I sang “Misty.” I had one arm on the piano and it was like I was in a club or something. It was really neat. It was a song I felt not that comfortable with and after I sang it, it felt really good. I was accompanied by Tex Arnold who played for Margaret Whiting for so many years and many other amazing people. The fact that he was playing for me was quite a treat.

What went through your mind?

When I sing, I try to embody the character. I don’t think about anything else. I don’t think about who is watching me and what they are thinking. It really has to do with the lighting. It was very dark so I couldn’t see any faces, so I pretended I had the lights off in my closet and I was singing in my closet. However, even though I couldn’t see faces in the audience, I knew where they were. I had to glance in their direction to make sure I connected with each one.

What was it like sitting on stage with your fellow contestants during the performances?

Each time someone would go up to sing all of the contestants would sway and get into the groove of the music. I love this music so it is great to see kids my age that feel as passionate about this music as I do.

What was the support like from each contestant towards one another?

We all gave each other so much love. They were all so supportive and they still are. It was incredible. We were all hoping for the best for each other. We had agreed the night before the concert, we said “O.K. there will be no bad attitudes after this.” After the competition we had the option to go back to the hotel with our families or go back to the dorms (Butler U.) and just hang out with each other and all of us decided to go back to the dorms. It was special.

What was it like when you heard your name called?

Tears ran down my face immediately. I was not expecting it all. It was Nia Savoy. We were both from the South Central regional so there were the two of us. She got second place and then they called my name. So the two southern girls got first and second so that was neat.

Did you feel confident that you might win?

I feel I did the best that I could. I knew that there was some sort of chance but I was not expecting to win. It was totally the best moment of my life.

What was the audience’s reaction when you won?

Right after they called my name and I began crying, I walked over to receive flowers they were holding for me and hugged everyone. Then Marc Cherry said, “Turn around. They’re giving you a standing ovation,” and I turned around and they were standing and clapping and it was just incredible.

Was your family present?

My mom was. She was very excited. After the show she ran up to the stage and she was in tears. It was special. My dad was at home with my little sister, Claire. She is nine years old and wasn’t able to come because she has an illness.

I presume you met last year’s winner and “America's Got Talent” contestant, Julia Goodwin?

Yes. She and I didn’t have much time to talk but she warmly welcomed me into the Michael Feinstein Foundation family. Julia performed two songs and was amazing. She is going to be a junior this year so the fact that she won last year as a sophomore is unbelievable.

Where are you going to college?

I will be attending Marymount Manhattan College which is in upper east Manhattan New York. It’s a great school and it is the heart of where I need to be. I will be a theater performance major with a musical theater minor. Orientation is Aug. 22. It’s going to be a good fit for me.

Any thoughts about Michael Feinstein?

He has been a huge idol of mine. He is just so knowledgeable about everything about the Great American Songbook. I can’t wait to soak up as much knowledge as I can from Michael and performing with him will be a dream come true.

Why does music of the Great American Songbook speak to you?

The music promotes positivity. They lyrics and the melodies of the songs are so witty and genuine and truthful.

How important is the competition?

This competition is a great way to keep the heartbeat of the American spirit alive. The more this competition grows, the more it inspires and educates audiences about The Great American Songbook.

What would you say to a member of your generation about why they should listen to this music and keep it alive?

This music is the foundation of which popular music is built on. If my generation listens to and cherishes this music, it will live longer and longer. This is the music that has staying power because there is so much heart and wit written into each lyric.

Overall, how would you describe your entire experience in Indiana?

It feels like it was a dream. As time goes on, performing with Michael, at Birdland and places like that, hopefully opportunities will arise. There is no way of knowing and I find that really exciting.

For more information about The Great American Songbook Foundation visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.

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