The history of Keene Idol is a rich story of the evolution of a community fundraiser for AIDS Services for the Monadnock Region, located in Keene, NH from 1989 – 2014. Originally known as Keene Karaoke Idol in 2004, the event was geared toward adult karaoke singers. Song lyrics were provided to performers as is customary for karaoke events and contestants were grouped by age. A panel of judges and the audience decided who moved on each week, and the audience votes were compiled for the Audience Favorite Award. Through the years this process changed to accommodate audience feedback and include new technology such as text and online voting, but the judging panel remained as a core element. In 2011, the youth performer category was added, and in 2012 the event named was changed to Keene Idol to remove the distraction of rolling karaoke lyrics for performers. In 2013, increased numbers of contestants from MA and VT joined NH competitors and regional stage performers were now drawn to the event.
With the closing of AIDS Services in 2014, much thought was put into whether or not Keene Idol would continue. Given the expectation of performers and community members that the competition must go on, including a guest who booked her airline tickets from Florida to Keene to coincide with Keene Idol's finale, producers Susan MacNeil and Jared Goodell decided to present the 2015 event independently, featuring a different nonprofit each week as the recipient of a donation and to showcase the work of their nonprofit agency.
Many adult Keene Idol contestants either fine-tuned their craft or were first-time performers during the event, going on to seek high-profile performance opportunities as individual artists and performing with bands including Karen Bay, Scott Bedard, April Cushman, Laural Ferguson, Artie Knowles, Alana Martineau, Rebecca Mae, Allie McGahie, Jess Rushlow and Nathan Wesley. 2014 grand prize winner, Gregory Knight, is also well-known in the regional and national competition circuit.
Other participants like Shana Stack was already well on her way during Keene Idol to achieve her 2015 accomplishment, Band of the Year for the Shana Stack Band as chosen by the New England Music Awards. April Cushman went on with her band to become the 2015 NH Country Music Association Band of the Year.
And although every winner is special, the most notable contestant was Michelle Brooks Thompson, a 2012 finalist on Season 3 of the NBC television show, The Voice. She auditioned with her given name of Elvetta, but was immediately recognizable to fellow contestants and audience members and has gone on to a multi-faceted performance career. Recently she signed with a gospel label.
In 2016, Goodell moved on to a prominent radio career and MacNeil moved to Bellows Falls, Vermont, where she reconnected with Robert McBride, founder and Executive Director of RAMP. To honor his remarkable achievements over the last 20 years, she decided to produce the Idol event in her new hometown with RAMP as beneficiary, and to continue providing the opportunity for performers throughout New England to take the stage and share their talent with an appreciative audience.
Finally in 2017, with the event in its 13th year, Idol will be held in a real theater on a real stage! The 550-seat Bellows Falls Opera House is the new home for Southern Vermont Idol, and we can’t wait to open the doors to this beautiful venue for you.
The Saxton’s River inn will provide a cash bar featuring Vermont craft drinks, and the Women of the Moose will once again offer their delicious desserts and snacks for sale. Of course, the concessions stand will be open for your favorite candy and popcorn. The $5 Triple-Up deal can’t be beat!
Who will return this year? Whose new talent will emerge? The beauty of the event is that each year presents the chance for singers to celebrate their craft. The 2004 and 2005 Idol winner, Marissa McTaggart, hailed from Vermont and the early years of the event were held in the Moose Lodge in Keene. Feels just like home to be in in Bellows Falls!
Past grand prize winners include:
- 2004 at the Moose Lodge in Keene, NH
- Marissa McTaggart
- 2005 at the Moose Lodge in Keene, NH
- Matt Dunton
- 2006 at the Moose Lodge in Keene, NH
- Laurie Meyerrose
- 2007 at the Moose Lodge in Keene, NH
- Karen Bays
- 2008 at the Moose Lodge in Keene, NH
- Shelby Lyn Rogers
- 2009 at the Moose Lodge in Keene, NH
- Wade ‘The Great’ Garrett
- 2010 at the Best Western in Keene, NH
- Nathan Wesley
- 2011 at McCue's Billiards & Sports Lounge in Keene, NH
- Courtney Swift, Adult
- Scout Landry, Youth
- 2012 at McCue's Billiards & Sports Lounge in Keene, NH
- Shauna Crosby, Adult
- Max Sjostrom, Youth
- 2013 at McCue's Billiards & Sports Lounge in Keene, NH
- Michelle Brooks Thompson, Adult
- Charles Staggers, Youth
- 2014 at McCue's Billiards & Sports Lounge in Keene, NH
- Gregory Knight, Adult
- Alani Besson, Youth
- 2015 at Scores Sports Bar & Grille in Keene, NH
- Haleigh Lord, Adult
- Katelyn Osborne, Youth
- 2016 at the Bellows Falls Moose Lodge
- Izzy Serebrov, Adult
- Christo Buckley, Youth