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2018 Northern Star winners wow audience, judges

CARIBOU, Maine — After giving heartfelt performances that left audience members and judges amazed, Jacob Graham, of Mapleton, and Sadie Cairns, of New Canada, walked off stage Sunday as the 2018 Northern Star and Junior Northern Star winners.

The Northern Star All-Talent Finale at the Caribou Performing Arts Center featured both new and seasoned performers, all 15 of whom were previously chosen at regional competitions in Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Houlton or through the newly-established United Way of Aroostook “wildcard picks.”

Graham, 29, a math and science teacher at Presque Isle Middle School, performed an emotional song that he wrote called, “I Cried Too,” about a man who adopts a young boy after finding him abandoned by his family and watches him grow into a confident high school graduate.

“In today’s world, with all these crazy things happening, we need to make sure our children know that they’re safe, loved and taken care of,” Graham told the packed auditorium before his performance.

Judges Addie Carter, Dixie Shaw and Doug Giroux gave Graham a standing ovation after he finished and the audience cheered and clapped enthusiastically. After Graham got emotional while talking about his 9-month-old son Waylon Graham, Northern Star co-host Jason Parent suggested that Graham’s wife Myka Smith bring him onstage. Waylon was all smiles while the judges praised his dad’s performance.

“I’ve seen you perform three times now,” Shaw said, referring to Graham’s past Northern Star performances. “I don’t even know what to say. You’ve got to record that song because I know you’re going to go somewhere with your talent.”

“I’m a cryer, too,” Carter said. “And so I really enjoyed your performance. It’s amazing that you wrote that song yourself.”

Later in the show the audience chose Graham as one of the top three Northern Star finalists who then had to compete against each other for the ultimate title. He chose another personal self-penned tune called, “Fly,” inspired by his mother Heidi Graham, who passed away in 2013.

The audience chose Graham as the Northern Star winner over finalists Jennifer Raymond, 35, of Eagle Lake, who gave a powerhouse performance of “Rock Me Right” by Susan Tedeschi, and judges’ pick Kevin Alexander Rivera, 20, a Loring Job Corps student, who played his own self-penned song “The Connection” on piano. Graham was one of five “wildcard picks” and previously sang in the Presque Isle regional competition.

The 14th annual Northern Star also added a new Junior Division, which allowed youngsters under age 12 to perform this year. Cairns, 11, sang a passionate rendition of “Maybe” from the musical “Annie” complete with the red dress and stage presence she had when performing the title role in a Fort Kent production of the musical last November.

Giroux told Cairns that even though she could’ve hit the high notes just a little less strong, he enjoyed seeing the confidence she had onstage.

“You covered the stage really well and looked at the audience the whole time. Well done,” he said.

“I’m a big fan of ‘Annie’ and I loved how you dressed and played the part as you sang,” Carter said.

Cairns later beat out junior contestants Sadie Grace Cormier, 10, of Madawaska, who sang, “How Great Thou Art,” accompanied by Wayne Coltart, and dancers Jane Mautz, 10, and Fiona Wu, 11, of Presque Isle, who repeated their graceful performance to “Riverside” by Agnes Obel from the Presque Isle regional show. Since only three junior performers made it to the finale, no second act was needed to determine the winner.

The three-hour-long finale also featured a special visit from last year’s Northern Star — Hope Chernesky, formerly of Houlton — before this year’s winners were announced. The violinist performed her own rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” complete with drum and guitar tracks that she recorded prior to the show.

Chernesky caught up with co-hosts Parent and Katie Zarrilli after her performance. The 14-year-old musician has had a busy year since she and her family moved to Farmington last summer. She has become one of many violinists in her school’s orchestra program, unlike in Houlton where she was the only student who played that particular instrument. Once she gets to high school this fall, she plans to be part of the school’s fiddlers group, which performs in numerous venues in Maine and Canada.

“What was your favorite part of winning Northern Star?” Zarrilli asked Chernesky.

“It gave me more exposure and I was able to perform at different events,” Chernesky said. “I think whoever wins is going to enjoy the experience a lot.”

All proceeds from Northern Star go toward funding for United Way’s programming, which provides tax preparation, books for children, meals to the elderly and other services to some of Aroostook County’s most vulnerable populations.

“It’s so great to have all this support from community members, friends and past Northern Star finalists. Thank you to everyone who came here today and to our regional shows,” Sherry Locke, United Way executive director, said.

For more information on United Way of Aroostook call (207) 764-5197 or visit http://www.unitedwayaroostook.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/unitedwayaroostook/.

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