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Napa Valley teenagers bring Latin flair to Idol NV

Over the past two months, Napa County students ages 12 to 17 have been auditioning for a spot to compete at the upcoming Idol NV finals taking place on Jan. 20 and 21 at the Napa Valley Community College Performing Arts Center.

Alejandra Hernandez Lopez from Vintage High School performs “Sabor A Mi” at her audition for the 2024 Idol NV from E & M Presents.

Over the past two months, Napa County students ages 12 to 17 have been auditioning for a spot to compete at the upcoming Idol NV finals taking place on Jan. 20 and 21 at the Napa Valley Community College Performing Arts Center. Spanish melodies are anticipated to take center stage as they did throughout auditions.


“I might sing “Curucucu Paloma” at the finals,” seventh-grader Maya Ortiz said, referring to a song by the late Mexican singer and composer Tomás Méndez. “I still don’t know if it will be a song in Spanish or English.”


Ortiz said she was in the “in-between” state of her Mexican American background as she decides between genres and artists to perform at finals.


“Talent doesn’t have a stereotype, language or budget,” said Evy Warshawski, co-director of E&M Presents, which is bringing back the event after several years in hiatus. “There is a plethora of diverse, talented teenagers here but not many outlets where they can showcase their talents. You also don’t need to be the next Celine Dion to participate. We just want to see passion.”


Warshawski started producing Idol NV in 2007 when she was the executive and artistic director of the Napa Valley Opera House. Her goal was to create an inclusive, cost-free event for young performers like Ortiz, fostering a space where diverse, bilingual talents could flourish.


As Idol NV 2024 approaches, Ortiz stands among other student singers faced with a plethora of English and Spanish song choices. Ultimately, many have decided to audition with a song that highlights their bilingual heritage, bringing a collective flair and presence to the event.


Jareli Baeza, a Valley Oak High School student, auditioned by singing “Dos Arbolitos” (Two Little Trees) in Spanish – one of her grandmother’s favorite songs. Yahir Cervantes Saucedo, 12, sang “La De La Mochila Azul” (The One in the Blue Backpack), a song by Pedrito Fernández that Saucedo has been singing since he was 5 years old. Alejandra Hernandez Lopez, from Vintage High School, performed “Sabor A Mí” (Taste of Me), a song she grew up listening to in her home.


“There are not many things like this in Napa,” Ortiz said of Idol NV. “I have never been part of a singing competition. I am nervous and excited.” The aspiring singer has been harmonizing notes since she was 7 years old, her mom, Elba Marquez, said. “She sings different genres from Mexican regional to pop songs by Doja Cat.”


Although Ortiz never had a professional singing coach – as many contestants have – Warshawski encourages all students to participate in the event, regardless of their singing background.


“Think about how many well-known artists have been discovered locally,” Marquez said. “As a mother, I’m nervous for my daughter Maya but I know this will help her step into something new.”


But as Ortiz navigates the feelings of an everyday teenager who is stepping out of her comfort zone to share her voice and personality on the front stage, her mother is encouraging her to tap into her dual background.


“Being a part of two cultures is beautiful because you open your horizons even more,” Marquez said. “Her life is a book where she is the author. She has the opportunity to showcase either culture.”


Ortiz, a former cello player, is pacifying her “finals” nervousness by spending a few hours a day practicing her vocals on top of being an active league soccer player.
And, Marquez has joined forces with Warshawski to act as the Spanish language liaison for Idol NV. Marquez leads outreach within the Latine community to bring in more Latine student talent to Idol NV.


“Animate (go for it)!” Marquez said. “Sometimes, as parents, we are caught up in the everyday routines: paying the bills, rent, and making ends meet for our children. But this is the time when we need to break our everyday routines and encourage our children to do something new with opportunities like this one. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”


The gain for the winners of Idol NV includes tickets to BottleRock, La Onda and cash prizes of up to $1,000.


Three winners will be announced at the end of performances on Sunday. Two winners will be chosen by a panel composed of professionals with a background in arts and a capella. One winner will be chosen by the audience.


The semi-finals are slated for Jan. 20 where the Napa High Vocal Music Workshop will perform. Devon Hadsell, the 2007 Opera House Idol winner who went on to perform in Broadway musicals, will sing at the finals on Jan. 21.


Both competitions take place from 2 to 4:30 pm, at the Napa Valley Community College Performing Arts Center. Tickets, starting at $12, can be purchased on EventBrite.com.

Yahir Cervantes Saucedo from American Canyon Middle School at auditions for Idol NV.

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