Kandis Barnette, 2013 Kingsport Idol winner in the 25 and up age group.
Mark Kilgore was working as a community center director for Kingsport Parks and Recreation in 2006 when he dreamed up the idea of a talent show for local youth.
Little did he know at the time that Kingsport Idol would become a showcase for aspiring singers of all ages from throughout the Mountain Empire.
"This has turned into something I never expected," said Kilgore, who now works as the recreation coordinator at Bays Mountain Park but still serves as the show's coordinator and host. "We started out with maybe 50 entries the first year and didn't really know what to expect. Last year we had 140, and we were getting crowds of 900 [spectators] a week at the Farmers Market. That was the first year we had done it there. We had almost 6,000 people for the finale."
Registration is currently under way for Kingsport Idol 2014 and will continue through April 30. It's free to register and audition; however, there is a $35 entry fee for contestants who are chosen by the judges to compete in the live performances.
Auditions will be held May 6 for contestants ages 8-12; May 7 for ages 13-17; May 13 for ages 18-24; and May 14 for ages 25 and older. All auditions begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Kingsport Renaissance Center theater.
Contestants will perform a song of their choice a cappella for the judges in a closed audition room. Family and friends are not allowed inside.
Live competition rounds, which are open to the public, begin May 27 and will continue each Tuesday evening in June. Semi-finals will be held July 8, and the final two contestants in each of the four age groups will duke it out at the finale July 16 during Fun Fest.
"When they get ready to do the live performances, they get a list of songs that they choose from — maybe 50 songs per age group. They don't even know what the category is going to be. One year it was called 'G'day Mate,' and it was all songs by Australian artists. We've done 'Number Game' — all songs that contain numbers, like '867-5309/Jenny.' We've had Motown before."
The first- and second-place finishers in each age group will receive cash prizes and studio time. Kilgore said he also hopes to be able to send the winners to audition for nationally televised singing competitions like "American Idol" and "The Voice."
A number of past winners have parlayed their Kingsport Idol victories into further successes. Country singer Brinley Addinton, a winner during Kingsport Idol's inaugural year, has gone on to open for the likes of Josh Turner, Chris Young and The Band Perry, and is currently headlining his own tour.
Kaitlyn Baker, a winner from the 2007 competition, recently signed a recording contract in Nashville, and Kandis Barnette, the 2013 Kingsport Idol winner in the 25 and older category, has signed a management deal with Skyline Management and recorded her first single, "Done," which is currently available on iTunes and all major digital media outlets. Julieona Soto, a 2012 Kingsport Idol winner, relocated to Los Angeles last year and has been working with producers from the hit show "Glee" on her debut CD.
"You never know who's listening or coming to watch the shows," Kilgore said. "I tell people all the time, we've got great singers in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia."
Sponsors for this year's event are Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union, Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, New Vision Youth and Ramey Ford. Media sponsors are ABC 19 WKPT-TV, Electric 94.9, 96.9 WXBQ, Wells Web Works and K-DAWG Productions.
To register for Kingsport Idol or for more information, visit www.kingsportidol.com or call 230-6357.