Who will be the Hilo Idol? First 3 of 6 finalists selected Wednesday
October 20, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
Before a packed and boisterous crowd Wednesday night at Hilo Town Market, Terran “TJ” Kaleiwahea Jr., Teena-Marie Viavia and Loretta “Green Eyes” Lopes sang their way into the finals of the first Hilo Idol.
“I’m so stoked,” said Kaleiwahea, a 30-year-old from Puna who took first place with a rendition of “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera.
Viavia sang “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly to take second, and Lopes took third with her version of “Family Portrait” by Pink.
They beat out six other contestants in the first of two semifinal rounds. The second semifinal, featuring the remaining nine contestants who made it out of the quarterfinals, will be Oct. 25.
The finals to see who will be crowned the first Hilo Idol will be Nov. 4. The semifinals continue to be karaoke format, with contestants seeking to wow the judges with their singing ability, stage presence and audience interaction.
Half the prize money, which is raised from audience contributions collected during each show, will be donated to help victims of the Lāhainā wildfire. It was up to $1,400 before Wednesday nightʻs semifinal round.
On Wednesday, the crowd at the showroom venue on Waiānuenue Avenue was already in full force more than an hour before the show. Week after week, the judges — HawaiiazOwn MainLan of We Stranded Records, KWXX’s Scotty on the Weekend (a.k.a. Scott Yoshizumi) and Sister Sauce of KBIG, HI95 and The Beat (a.k.a. Sasha Kauwale) — have had a more challenging time with deliberations.
“The talent that has come forth has been absolutely spectacular,” Strauss said.
Kaleiwahea hadn’t been on the Idol stage since Aug. 30, when he also claimed the top spot during the first quarterfinal round. He beat seven other contestants with his version of “When I Was Your Man” by Hawai‘i’s own Bruno Mars and then impressing the judges again in the Challenge Round by belting out “Maria Maria” by Santana.
Kaleiwahea saw how tough the competition was in the following five quarterfinals and said he decided to make some life changes such as quitting smoking to give himself the best chance to advance to the finals.
Viavia said it’s amazing to be one of the first finalists. She’s overly excited to move on in the competition after putting it all out on the stage: “I feel really great right now.”
Lopes said claiming a finalist spot is a blessing. The competition was tough, but she wasn’t afraid. A supporter standing next to her screamed that Lopes “killed it” on stage.
“I’m super excited and I’m up for the challenge,” Lopes said.
The excitement was palpable, with screams and cheers as show host and co-creator Levi Strauss, owner of Levitation Entertainment, floated around the room and on stage pumping up the audience and contestants.
Semifinalists also were judged on their attire and how they answered two questions during an interview before each of their performances. All of them were asked how their love of music started and what they hoped would happen as a result of being part of Hilo Idol.
The action didn’t let up until after the first three finalists were named following nearly two hours of a raucous good time that showcased the sensational singing talents of some of the Big Island’s best vocalists. Song choices ran the gamut, from pop and hip-hop to a Disney tune.
“These folks are untapped, raw, bright shining stars,” Kauwale said. “Many performers possess the potential to really take their singing careers far. I mean record deals, radio play, tours and more.”
There’s been just a 1- or 2-point margin separating the top three contestants during each of the first six rounds. Director Jonathan Humphries, who owns Lōʻihi Studios, on numerous occasions had to pull the judges aside to confirm the scores because they were that close.
“They are all extremely talented,” said Yoshizumi about all 18 semifinalists. “Now, it’s about taking your ability to that next level. We’re looking for an ICON.”
He added: “We’ve all been blown away by the amount of talent. I expected to have a handful of really talented performers because there are some really amazing singers on the Big Island. But I didn’t expect the volume of talent that we’ve seen.”
The show has far exceeded the expectations of its organizers, directors, judges and host, selling out every week. Strauss said the intrigue and success of Hilo Idol is being shared, discussed and followed islandwide.
“The measure of success was the stir of excitement, the word spread, the turnout and the outpouring of love and support by the people of Hawai‘i,” he said. “The community coming together to support local talent — and people as a whole — is heartwarming and restores faith in our ability to assemble, not only through tragedy but through love and opportunities for growth.”
Heading into next week’s semifinals and beyond, MainLan summed it up: “Who will rise to the occasion and take advantage of the moment to be a highlighted vocalist here in our little town?”
Next week’s second and final semifinal round, during which the last three finalists will be selected from the remaining nine semifinalists, begins at 8:30 p.m. Doors open at 7. p.m. with open karaoke starting at 7:30 p.m. There is a $10 cover, and it is bring your own goodies and drinks.
You can also reserve a table in advance by visiting the Levitation Entertainment Instagram page.
If you can’t make it in person, you can watch the show streamed live at Hawaiiwatchlive.com. You can also watch past show’s on the website, including this week’s first semifinal round.
Tickets for the Nov. 4 finale, which will feature the top six performers from the semifinals vying for the crown on the Hilo Town Market main stage, go on sale this weekend online. They are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. You can also reserve one of two remaining VIP tables of six for $120.