BEMIDJI -- After a fully virtual Bemidji Sings! competition in 2020, local amateur vocalists returned to BSU’s main stage on Friday, July 16 to compete for cash prizes and a chance to perform at the statewide Minnesota Sings competition in October.

Family, friends and community members gathered in BSU’s Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex for the fourth annual Bemidji Sings! event. Hosted by Headwaters Music and Arts, the show featured a lineup of 12 finalists in two age categories, Division I for ages 13-20 and Division II for ages 21 and up.

Finalists included Chelsea Ottman Rak, Jacob Anderson, Genevieve Oakes, Maya Lindquist, Darolyn Erickson, Ronnie Gustafson, Scott Haugen, Blaine Ludeman, Helen Bartlett, Katelynn Davids, Aspen Tobin and Brandon Beaulieu.

Katelynn Davids sings “Dead Mom” from Beetlejuice in the Bemidji Sings! vocal competition on Friday, July 16, 2021, at BSU's Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. Davids took first place in her age division. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Katelynn Davids sings “Dead Mom” from Beetlejuice in the Bemidji Sings! vocal competition on Friday, July 16, 2021, at BSU's Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. Davids took first place in her age division. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

The third place prize in each division was $75, second place was $150 and first place was $300 along with recording time at Supple Studios, a Bemidji-based music studio.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Also at stake for competitors was the chance to compete at Minnesota Sings, which is awarded to the first and second place winners in each division. Each city with its own local “Sings” event is eligible to send four singers to the statewide competition, which takes place in Woodbury. This year, Minnesota Sings is set to give away $15,000 total, as well as recording sessions and music gear.

April Aylesworth, 2019 Bemidji Sings! finalist and Minnesota Sings winner in her age category, stood before attendees to give insight into her experience performing at Minnesota Sings, and offered a few words of advice to the finalists who will advance to the statewide competition.

“I would advise that they choose a song that really suits them and showcases their voice, and also that they’re very comfortable with,” Aylesworth said. “And to just really have fun with it.”

Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince also took the stage to welcome vocalists before the start of the competition, extending an early congratulations to the singers that would be chosen to represent Bemidji at Minnesota Sings.

The event was emceed by local singer/songwriter and musician Eric Carlson, and judges included Zaq Swank, Linda Wagner and Caige Jambor.

There was no shortage of talent from this year's performers, who brought to the stage everything from original songs to classic showtunes. While judges deliberated after the performances, Aylesworth returned to the stage with guitar in hand to perform an original song for attendees, followed by Vance Joy’s “Riptide.”

Audience members were then invited to join in the singing of “Lean on Me” and “You are my Sunshine” accompanied by Bemidji Sings! finalists, Dan Will on piano and emcee Eric Carlson on guitar. When judges still hadn’t returned from deliberation, Carlson jumped into a performance of his original song, “Solstice."

Local singer/songwriter and musician Eric Carlson emceed the Bemidji Sings! vocal competition on Friday, July 16, 2021, at BSU's Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Local singer/songwriter and musician Eric Carlson emceed the Bemidji Sings! vocal competition on Friday, July 16, 2021, at BSU's Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Katelynn Davids took first place in Division I for ages 13-20, followed by runner-up Helen Bartlett and Aspen Tobin in third place.

92-year-old Darolyn Erickson was awarded first place in Division II for ages 21 and up, with Scott Haugen taking second place and Chelsea Ottman Rak in third place.

“I’ve just got to give a shoutout to all the work that the singers and their teachers have put in, not only trying to win, but also making this a great show,” judge Zaq Swank remarked before announcing the awards. “Isn’t it great to be back?”