WEST ORANGE, NJ – West Orange Idol, a local talent show inspired by the popular television show and singing competition American Idol, will be entering its second year on Sept. 15, 2019 when the Downtown West Orange Alliance (DWOA) hosts the event for the first time in 17 years from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center (OSPAC)

“They called me the ‘Fried Chicken Lady,’” singer and West Orange resident Lynette Sheard said while recalling what happened after winning the original West Orange Idol in 2002.

Sheard took some time to discuss what West Orange Idol meant to her and why it should remain an important part of West Orange culture.

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“[West Orange Idol was] my first official anything,” said the seasoned vocalist, who added that the competition came at a time of “much transition” within her family.

After recently losing her job, Sheard said that she had prayed fervently, saying, ‘“Oh God, what could I do for the rest of my life even if I never got paid, please show me what that is.’”

Soon enough, Sheard received a notice in the mail about West Orange Idol and immediately thought that she could participate and make it into a family project with her three daughters, who were young girls at the time.

“I didn’t even realize that it was a contest,” she said. “I thought it was just for fun.”

Sheard’s idea for what to perform for West Orange Idol came from an unlikely source. Sheard said that she always had a habit of listening to the instrumentals of popular music in the car and making up lyrics to go along with them.

“So, I was listening to Etta James’ ‘At Last’ and just changed the words,” she said. “At the time, I just happened to love Kentucky Fried Chicken, so I wrote a song about Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to the melody of ‘At Last.’”

While preparing for the competition, Sheard took her love of fried chicken to the next level by helping two of her daughters design KFC-themed costumes—dressing them as a bucket of KFC and a biscuit—and having her middle daughter choreograph the steps for their performance.

“During that whole process of preparing for this contest, it was a project for us to kind of work together, laugh together, be silly,” she said. “But then it was [also] an opportunity for me to see what [my daughters’] talents were.”

Sheard ultimately won $500 in the contest, but her victory also marked the start of a much-needed career change. Almost immediately, Sheard was approached by several members of the audience, including some music producers who offered business cards and even studio time.

“You know, for me it was like a sign,” said Sheard, who went on to perform in a variety of productions such as “Ragtime,” “Aida” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at OSPAC and other venues.

“Besides music and the whole contest initiating self-discovery, [OSPAC] became a respite for my family in the midst of a crisis,” said Sheard. “It’s kind of a launching pad for my passion, which is to sing and serve, because that’s what God told me to do.”

Sheard continued that she will always treasure her experience on West Orange Idol.

“Not only did we have a chance to grow creatively, but [OSPAC] was a place where kids and grandparents and people of all ages could come and enjoy theatre,” said Sheard, who hopes that more people, especially kids, will be inspired to step on the stage and to make the space their own.

Because Sheard was the competition’s first and only winner, Megan Brill, DWOA executive director, invited her in 2018 to be a judge and to open the revived event this month.

“I was honored when Megan asked me last year,” said Sheard. “It was a joy to be able to do something in my town and support the theatre and support the arts.”

According to Brill, the DWOA wanted to bring back West Orange Idol because it’s “something fun for [the] community” and it will also help to highlight local businesses.

West Orange residents of all ages are encouraged and eligible to participate and compete for trophies, ribbons and cash prizes, according to the DWOA website. Brill expects about 50 bands and singers to participate this year.

Best Band and Best Singer will each receive $250 cash prizes, with each band member receiving a medal and the best singer receiving a trophy. The winners for Best Teen and Best Child Singer will each receive a $50 cash prize and a medal. Second and third place winners will receive ribbons.

Local businesses will also be on hand to sell food and other merchandise at the event.

All participants and businesses must submit their application and application fee to Megan Brill by Sept. 10.

The cost to participate is $5 per act and $25 per business to host a booth. Groups, bands and businesses should check in at 12 p.m. Solo artists should arrive by 12:30 p.m.

Click HERE to learn more about West Orange Idol, which is sponsored by the DWOA and Pleasant Valley Production, which was recently awarded the license to operate OSPAC on behalf of the township.

All inquiries can be directed to mbrill@downtownwo.com.