Northern Star competition reveals St. John Valley talent

FORT KENT, Maine — There is plenty of musical talent to be found in the St. John Valley as the 14th annual United Way of Aroostook Northern Star competition proved on Friday night.

Northern Star is a singing competition/fundraiser that United Way of Aroostook hosts, with the first round of the event scheduled this weekend in each of three County communities — Fort Kent, Presque Isle, and Houlton.

Jennifer Raymond (right) embraces fellow Northern Star contestant Savanna Hanlon at the Fort Kent leg of the Aroostook County singing competition on Friday, March 9.
Jessica Potila|Fiddlehead Focus

Fourteen competitors shared their talents with a packed house of more than 400 on Friday in Fox Auditorium at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. The competition culminates in an All-Talent Finale in which finalists from each regional show compete for the title of “Northern Star.”

Four Valley residents earned a spot in the finale as a result of their performances on Friday: Jennifer Raymond, Cady Hebert, Savanna Hanlin and Sadie Cairns.

Raymond, 35, dressed in a black sequined shirt/dress with a matching top hat took the stage with style, sass and a ridiculously broad vocal range when she performed the song, “All that Jazz,” from the musical Chicago.

Cady Hebert of Fort Kent will advance to the Northern Star finale after audience members voted her into the top two at the regional leg of the competition held at the University of Maine at Fort Kent on Friday, March 9.
Jessica Potila|Fiddlehead Focus

The panel of local celebrity judges, Samantha Boutot, Pam Thibodeau and Doug Giroux all expressed their appreciation for the Eagle Lake singing sensation.

“There should be a helicopter outside waiting to take you to Broadway; you’re that good,” Giroux said. “You’re much more powerful than Northern Star.”

Cady Hebert, 15, of Fort Kent also impressed the judges with her rendition of, “Jesus Take the Wheel,” by Carrie Underwood.

“Wow, wow, wow,” Thibodeau said of Hebert’s performance.

“Everything was perfect; awesome job,” added Boutot.

Audience members agreed with the judges’ assessment and voted for Raymond and Hebert to advance to the Northern Star finale.

Benita Ouellette (left) performs at the Northern Star competition in Fort Kent as her mother and co-performer, Jeanita Ouellette, takes a break from dancing with Northern Star judge Doug Giroux on Friday, March 9.
Jessica Potila|Fiddlehead Focus

The audience also had the final say on the fate of a competitor in a new junior division of Northern Star, open to contestants younger than 12 years old.

Sadie Cormier of Madawaska, as well as Sadie Cairns, Emerson Bois and Haidyn Saucier of Fort Kent all turned out solid singing performances in the junior division in Fort Kent. Audience members ultimately voted Cairns, 11, through to the finale.

The judges praised Cairns for her powerful voice, confidence and professional attitude on stage for a child her age.

A judges’ choice vote allowed Boutot, Bouchard and Giroux to select an additional contestant from the age 12 and older group to move on to the finale.

They chose Savanna Hanlin of St. Agatha, who sang, “Jar of Hearts,” by Christina Perri.
“You did it; you owned it,” Bouchard told the 15-year-old singer following her performance.

Hanlin broke into tears upon the judges’ announcement and Raymond comfortingly gathered Hanlin in her arms on the stage.

Other contestants who did not immediately move through to the final round as a result of the Fort Kent event also impressed the judges and audience members.

Mother and daughter duo Benita and Jeanita Ouellette performed the song, “I Love a Rainy Night,” by Eddie Rabbitt.

Benita, 66, had the vocal chops to carry the song as her 86-year-old mother proved to be an energetic and crowd-pleasing background dancer.

Judge Giroux was so impressed that he joined Jeanita Ouellette mid-song for a dance and twirl while Benita Ouellette continued her enthusiastic vocal performance.

Benita Ouellette she said she enjoyed sharing the stage with her mother.

“She’s wonderful to be with; she’s a joy in my life,” she said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

One or more competitors from the Fort Kent event may still have a chance to compete in the finale, as potential “wild card” picks, which United Way of Aroostook officials may determine after the regional shows conclude.

United Way of Aroostook Executive Director Sherry Locke reminded the crowd at the Fort Kent show that for every dollar United Way of Aroostook raises from events like Northern Star or from donations, the non-profit organization spends 99 cents to directly benefit people living in The County.

“We’re not some organization that’s from away,” Locke said.

Among examples of United Way of Aroostook’s community efforts is that the group provides free books to Aroostook County children under the age of 5 years old and free tax preparation services to County residents who earn less than $54,000 each year.

On Thursday, United Way of Aroostook partnered with WAGM-TV to sponsor a “Hope for the Homeless” telethon which raised more than $27,000 for homeless people living in Aroostook County.

Jason Parent and Katie Zarrilli maintained their comedic on-stage chemistry as co-emcees of the Fort Kent Northern Star event for the second year in a row.

Raymond, Hebert, Cairns and Hanlin will join finalists of this weekend’s two other regional Northern Star competitions in Presque Isle and Houlton to perform at the Northern Star All-Talent Finale beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 25, at the Caribou Performing Arts Center.

For more information about United Way of Aroostook, call (207) 764-5197 or visit the organization’s office in the Aroostook Centre Mall in Presque Isle or visit online or on Facebook.

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