See Shana Nelson’s Teen Idol finals performance here.
By Amy Robinson
Logan County High School junior Shana Nelson has been singing “since I could talk,” but May 10, the 16-year-old was momentarily left speechless. That’s when she was crowned West Virginia’s Teen Idol at Charleston Town Center.
The competition began for Nelson April 18 when she sailed through a screening round and into the contest’s second of four preliminaries, in which her rendition of Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” earned her a spot in the semifinals. Then, after three weeks of waiting, it was time for the combination semifinals/finals May 10. First, she performed with 19 other semifinalists, this time singing Duffy’s “Mercy.” After making the cut, she performed again (Adele’s “Someone Like You”) along with the five other finalists: Seth Bunting, Kyra Walker, Cody Wilson, Krista Walls and Sabrina Miley.
Ultimately, the contest came down to Nelson and Bunting, also of Logan County.
“They called us all onstage to announce the winner,” Nelson said. “They called people off stage one by one until it was down to just me and Seth.
“It was amazing but also terrible, because I’ve been good friends with Seth since I was 9. When I started doing theater with [The] Aracoma [Story], he was my first friend. It was so hard. We held hands and hugged. I was crying. We kept telling each other we loved each other. I was nervous for me but nervous for him, too.
“Then they said, ‘The next contestant to leave the stage is… I’m sorry, contestant number one. He left the stage, and I was like, ‘What? Does this mean I won?!’ My dad was jumping in the air on his bad knee,” she recalled with a laugh.
Bunting didn’t go away empty handed, though. After 850 ballots were counted, he emerged as the crowd favorite, winning a $100 mall gift card.
Nelson’s prize is a bit more substantial. As the winner, she receives the “Ultimate Recording Experience”: a three-night trip for two to Nashville in July that includes 10 hours of studio time to record two songs with a professional backing band and a career consultation with a music producer. She also gets $500 spending money for the trip, a $250 mall gift card for wardrobe needs, promotional headshots by Steve Payne Photography, a private vocal/performance workshop in preparation for the trip and performance slots at FestivALL and Live on the Levee.
Nashville, of course, is the most exciting aspect of the prize.
“I’m really excited about getting to record something,” Nelson said. “That’s been my dream for as long as I can remember. I never thought it would happen.”
She added, “Just going to Nashville as a whole is amazing to me; it’s Nashville! I’ve got family members coming, and I’m excited to share the experience with them and tour the city with them.”
However, Nelson is thrilled for other parts of the prize package, too.
“I am so excited to perform at Live on the Levee at FestivALL that it’s insane. That’s a big deal!
“Also I’m excited for the photography session with Steve Payne. He’s so fantastic! He was one of the judges, and he’s been super nice to me from the start. He’s the coolest guy ever — and I love having my picture taken!”
Though this was just her second singing-only performance (she sang “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” in a third-grade talent show), Nelson is a seasoned musical theater performer who has been acting in community and school productions since age 9. Her most recent roles have been Dorothy in The Aracoma Story’s “Wizard of Oz” last summer and Tracy Turnblad in her school’s production of “Hairspray” this year. Before that, she said, she used to make up plays and have her family perform them.
Her family is very supportive of her love of performing. After she and her parents saw the Teen Idol competition sign at the mall, it was Nelson’s mom who encouraged her to sign up.
“I took my momma’s word for it, and here I am!”
Nelson wasn’t sure what to expect with the competition and said the beginning was “kind of like throwing myself into a pool.”
Nerves weren’t really a factor — at first.
“I was only slightly nervous, because there wasn’t that much pressure on me,” she said. “The farther things got, the more nervous I got. I went from ‘Oh, this is OK’ to ‘I’m ready to pass out!’”
Luckily, she didn’t. Part of what made her so comfortable was her song selections.
“Adele has always inspired me,” she said. “She’s been a huge, huge role model for me. She’s just one of the best artists of our generation. Her songs are fantastic, and I feel so comfortable singing them.”
Interestingly, though, she almost didn’t perform “Someone Like You.”
“I started doubting myself, but Dad told me to just sing it like how I sing it in the car,” she said. “So, that’s the song I went with, and I’m glad I did!”
Nelson said she’s appreciative of all the competition’s sponsors — Charleston Town Center (especially Lisa McCracken and Olivia Smolder, she said), Coca-Cola, Electric 102.7 and FlipSide — as well as the judges. She hopes the opportunity they’ve provided will lead to big things.
“I would love to sing my entire life. If I could get through life by just opening my mouth and hitting a note, that would be a dream. If I could pull a little Dolly Parton and sing a little here, act a little there, that’d be cool.”
Reach Amy Robinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4881.