by Bradley Donalson
It’s that time again! Pride Superstar has begun its annual competition to crown the top singer in the Houston area. Season 9 had such a talented pool of entrants that their audition process ended with 13 finalists this year, as opposed to the usual dozen. These hopeful stars, all impressive in their own rights, will compete before a panel of judges and the crowd each week, and they will belt out their best, hoping to win votes from the audience and make it through each week’s elimination round.
This year’s panel of esteemed judges includes regulars Joey Guerra, the pop music critic for the Houston Chronicle, and Tianna Hall, the award-winning jazz songstress, who will be joined each week with a different guest judge who will provide new and varied opinions on the competitors. Longtime fans of the prestigious competition will also recognize former competitor and fan-favorite Nina Lombardo who will be joining the competition as the host. Lombardo has worked with these judges before and praises Guerra for his way of “critiquing so that he’s not trying to correct you,” and that he’s “helping you grow,” while she says that Hall is “a doll” and “a saucy little librarian” with a great ear.
The contestants this year are varied and eclectic. From their auditions, some have already started to align themselves with a specific genre. After the auditions, Lombardo thinks that “Whitney [K. Lane] will be the country girl, and Travis [Herzog] will be like a little Justin Timberlake.” She’s also pretty sure that Ektor will infuse a little bit of a Latin vibe into the mix after he auditioned in Spanish. On that, Lombardo says, “I didn’t know what he was saying, but it was really pretty.” She’s also very excited to see Gin Martini perform, claiming that “she’s a fashion queen who has such eclectic taste.”
Of course, after only one week, it’s too early for most people to pick a favorite. The contestants introduced themselves Tuesday (May 5), but the competition is geared to taking people out of their comfort zones with a different theme for each week. Each singer will have to put their own unique spin on different varieties of music in order to impress the judges and hopefully inspire the fans to vote for them. Lombardo remembers back to her time at the competition and how the competition forced her to “think outside the box and make songs my own.” She now looks forward to helping the 2015 hopefuls find their own way out of the box in her capacity as the host. Some themes this year that might crop up are Dance/Disco, Soundtracks/Show Tunes, and possibly a duet week. It’s even been suggested that a week dedicated to honoring famous artists who have passed be included, but there’s no word on if we can look forward to that.
Pride Superstar is one of the major indicators of the countdown to the Houston LGBT Pride Celebration. An official Pride Houston event, the competition takes place at Meteor every Tuesday night, whittling away at the contestants until the final four will grace the stage at South Beach on Tuesday of Pride Week, June 23. “I feel like, for a lot of the younger community,” Lombardo comments, “it’s hard to walk into a bar and connect with people. Throwing yourself into a competition like this is such a great way to feel like you belong, and connect with something positive. It’s hard to know where to start to help in the community. Being involved with something like a competition that is involved with Pride, it’s helping and it’s doing something. It’s such a production. It started so humbly at Guava Lamp, and now we’ve got [Ru Paul’s] Drag Race contestants judging. The last eight weeks are the countdown to Pride. Come and get excited.”
We couldn’t agree more.