Vienna residents are crooning in competition this month during the audition phase of Vienna Idol, an “American Idol”-inspired competition held in town.
Beginning earlier this month, auditions have been held twice weekly at Caffe Amouri and Vienna’s Whole Foods market. Though it’s early in the competition, organizer and Caffe Amouri owner Michael Amouri said the contest likely will outperform last year’s efforts.
“Word is getting out. Last year, we had contestants ages 9 to in their 60s,” Amouri said. “We had semi-professionals to a little boy who performed a song about the periodic table.”
About 30 people competed during last year’s Vienna Idol, which culminated in a final performance of six competitors. They performed during Vienna’s summertime Concert on the Green, which is held on the town’s green off Maple Avenue.
The 2012 Vienna Idol was won by 14-year-old Ethan Schaefer, who secured the crown with an inspired rendition of Five for Fighting’s “100 Years.”
“Each finalist had a bucket with their face on it and people would buy [for a dollar each] a ticket and put it in a bucket,” Amouri said. “We thought we would raise $1,000 total. We raised $3,000 just on the Vienna Green. People would come up and buy $20 of tickets and put them all in a bucket... Your dollar is your vote.”
This year’s competition has already attracted 15 local performers. The contest is open to anyone, not just Vienna residents. The semifinals will be held during Memorial Day weekend at the annual Viva Vienna celebration. The finals are planned for the Concert on the Green on June 7, beginning at 6 p.m.
The 2013 Vienna Idol winner will receive $500, second-place winner $200 and third-place winner $100.
While Vienna Idol is community-based entertainment, the music competition serves as a fundraiser for the Khristin Kyllo Memorial Fund.
Khristin Kyllo, a 2010 Madison High School graduate, died suddenly Jan. 13, 2011, during her freshman year at Princeton University. She was 18.
“Her senior year at Madison, she just started having seizures, but doctors couldn’t find out what was causing them,” said Khristin’s father, Thomas Kyllo. “They thought it was maybe something that would work itself out, that she would grow out of it... The first time we heard of SUDEP [Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy] was probably five or so days after her death and that’s probably a normal story.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, SUDEP accounts for 7 to 17 percent of deaths among people with epilepsy. Seizures can cause cardiac and pulmonary derangement. Patients with uncontrolled seizures are at greater risk for SUDEP.
Khristin experienced several seizures a day initially, Kyllo said. This number was reduced to about two seizures a month before a January seizure caused her heart to stop, which led to her death.
“The seizures really changed her outlook on life,” Kyllo said, adding that his daughter was an outgoing, hardworking, focused student and athlete. “The last couple months there, she had talked about going into psychology or sociology... It was a dream of hers to go to Africa and help kids.”
The Kyllo family has turned their grief into an effort to educate and advocate for treatment of SUDEP, but are also fundraising in Khristin’s name to provide scholarships to Madison students who share her same spark for life.
“Khristin was really into sports. She was really into basketball. She wanted to play softball 24 hours a day,” Kyllo said. “Music [specifically rap] was also really important to her. She was intense in everything she did and music was an outlet for her.”
Kyllo serves as a Vienna Idol judge. Other judges are drawn from the community and have included local musicians and Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman. Last year’s Idol winner, Ethan Schaefer, will judge this year’s talent.
Judges choose finalists from auditions. Winners are selected by popular vote.
Since forming the Khristin Kyllo Memorial Fund in spring 2011, efforts in Khristin’s name have raised about $40,000, which includes three Khristin Kyllo “Dream Big” scholarships of $5,000 to Madison students. Student scholarship recipients are selected by a panel of Madison teachers and guidance staff, Kyllo said, because they work closely with students.
“We want to help one of these students get to college that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it,” he said. “But we’re also looking for someone with big dreams.”
Organizers said they hope the added visibility and participation in this year’s Vienna Idol will help draw more attention to their primary goal.
Vienna also has hosted the music festival Kyllopalooza in honor of Khristin and as a fundraiser for the memorial fund.
On this year’s Vienna Idol competition, Amouri, Khristin’s high school basketball coach, said, “I don’t really have a [fundraising] goal. I just want to raise more. She was a great little point guard. I think she was like 5 feet tall... An amazing young lady. Her dream was to go to college and play softball.”
Khristin completed a season of softball at Princeton before her death.
High school friend and fellow 2010 graduate Sash Callsen, 20, says the Vienna Idol event on the Town Green serves as a homecoming of sorts for Khristin’s friends.
“The town loved her and everyone gets together in May to kind of celebrate,” he said. “All of our friends come out to hang out.”
Callsen placed second in last year’s Vienna Idol for his vocal performance of two original charts “Mary” and “Mary II.” He played guitar in accompaniment. Now a junior at Virginia Tech, Callsen said he aspires to be a musician. He plans on auditioning for Vienna Idol again in May after university classes let out for the summer.
“There was a good amount of people [at the Town Green last year],” Callsen said. “I’m just excited to play for the town.”
For more information on the Khristin Kyllo Memorial Fund, visit KristinKylloMemorialFund.org.