American Traditions Competition February Madness! 

Bracket of 28 narrows down to one victorious voice

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THE MOST promising voices from across the nation are flocking to Savannah to give it their all in the annual American Traditions Competition. Out of 107 applications, 28 up-and-coming talents were selected to show what they've got and, over the course of a maximum of three rounds, they'll perform for a live audience and panel of judges.

Vocalists can choose from 14 American Traditions Competition genres: Blues, Jazz, Opera, Art Song, Modern Cabaret, Folk, Gospel, Country & Western, Negro Spirituals, Sacred Songs, Musical Theater, Hollywood, Great American Songbook, and Songs of Johnny Mercer. Genres are defined as a grouping of songs, either by style, association, or source material.

“It gives them a chance to show what they do best,” says Vale Rideout, Artistic Director, of the Competition’s many offerings.

It also requires performers to show their diversity as vocalists—you can be the world’s greatest opera singer, but the American Traditions judges are looking for superstars who wow the crowd across all genres.

Rideout encourages competitors to think of each round as its own performance, carefully selecting an opener, middle song, and ending to engage the audience. Through their song choices, they can establish a natural flow of sound and emotion, and, though they’ll be sampling from a diverse catalog, a kind of style and character.

Mezzo-soprano Jessica Ann Best has chosen a variety of works to show her complex range of abilities. One she’s looking forward to performing in particular is William Bolcom’s “Amor.”

“It’s spunky, but challenging,” she smiles.

And don’t expect a dry eye in the house when she breaks out Martina McBride’s “In My Daughter’s Eyes.”

She’ll even channel one of her major influences, Barbra Streisand, in a rendition of 1987’s “Evergreen.”

Competitors have poured hours into rehearsing and arranging their sets; when the stakes are this high, it’s worth the sweat. First prize, The Courtney Knight Gaines Gold Medal Award, is $12,000. The Second Prize winner will be awarded the Heyward and Patty Gignilliat Silver Medal Award ($6,000), and Third Prize earns the Rob Demere Colonial Group Bronze Medal Award ($3,000).

But that’s not all: $750 goes to the winner of the Johnny Mercer Award, presented by Friends of Johnny Mercer and Armstrong Atlantic University (awarded to, of course, the best Mercer rendition). The best performance of a Jazz song earns the $500 Ben Tucker Jazz Award, and, in perhaps one of the most fun aspects of the competition, the audience-voted People’s Choice Award gives a quarterfinalist and semifinalist $500 each.

That scope of prizes can open many doors for vocalists, such as master’s classes, travel expenses that will allow them to explore new performance opportunities, or covering everyday bills as they pursue their dream.

Plus, Best points out, the American Traditions Competition is a great chance to rub shoulders with the celebrity judges, many of whom have links to Broadway and beyond. This year, the competition’s esteemed judges include Jim Wann (lead composer/lyricist for the Tony-nominated Pump Boys and Dinettes), Kristen Blodgette (Musical Director and conductor of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway), and Ron Raines (Tony-nominated actor and vocalist).

Best, who won the Bel Canto Foundation’s Scholarship to the V.O.I.C.E. Experience, loves performing for Savannah audiences, and looks forward to the thrill of the American Traditions Competition.

“People just love the arts and music here,” she says. “They make you feel like a part of it right away.”


ATC Schedule


Monday, February 23rd

and Tuesday, February 24th

2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Skidaway Island United Methodist Church

1 ticket for 1 session—$15.00, 1 ticket for 2 sessions—$25.00


Wednesday, February 25th

4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Skidaway Island United Methodist Church

1 ticket for 1 session—$20.00, 1 ticket for 2 sessions—$35.00


Thursday, February 26th


Savannah Theatre

General Seating—$35.00, Premium Seating—$50.00


Friday February 27th


Savannah Theatre

General Seating—$35.00, Premium Seating—$50.00


About The Author

Anna Chandler

Anna Chandler

Connect Savannah Arts & Entertainment Editor Anna Chandler started writing about music after growing hoarse from talking about it nonstop. Born in Tennessee and raised in South Carolina, she has been a proud Savannahian for 8 years. She sings & plays guitar & accordion in COEDS and Lovely Locks.

More by Anna Chandler


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