Who will be the first Hilo Idol? Finale Saturday night for Big Island’s singing competition
November 4, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
* Updated November 5, 11:41 AM
This is it. After six weeks of quarterfinals and two semifinal rounds, the field of more than 50 contestants has been whittled down to just six who will take the stage at Hilo Town Market one more time for a chance at becoming an idol.
The finale of Hilo Idol, the Big Island’s ultimate singing competition, is tonight, with lots of buzz and sold out table reservations.
The finalists vying for the crown, in no particular order, are: Kacy Sanchez, Josh Lozada, Bridge Hartman, Terran “TJ” Kaleiwahea Jr., Teena-Marie Viavia and Loretta “Green Eyes” Lopes.
The finale will be a little different than previous rounds, with each contestant singing two songs. Those songs also can be karaoke like in previous rounds or the contestants can switch it up and sing covers or originals and perform with or without instrumentation.
The winner of Hilo Idol will receive half the prize pot, which stands at more than $1,800 through the quarterfinals and semifinals. More money will be added to during the finale, with the other half going to help families impacted by the devastating Aug. 8 wildfire in Lahaina, Maui.
There also are many other sponsors who will provide additional prizes to be revealed when the Idol winner is named.
Furthermore, Lōʻihi Studios, owned by the show’s director Jonathan Humphries, will provide a 6-month professional mentorship for the winner to assist them with understanding the inner workings of the music industry and the tools they need to navigate their options so they can take advantage of the exposure provided by Hilo Idol.
Host and co-creator Levi Strauss, owner of Levitation Entertainment, said the top six have shown exceptional courage, willingness and talent throughout their journey to the finale.
“They all have that little extra something that made them stand out,” Strauss said. “The showmanship, the artistic expression and, of course, the vocal gifts.”
Let’s meet the finalists:
Teena-Marie Viavia — Viavia, who started singing at just 5 years old, said this is the first time she is taking a chance on herself. The 41-year-old is recovering from substance abuse issues and moved in May from O‘ahu to Mauna Loa Estates to live with her parents and better the lives of herself and children.
She works two days a week for Allied Universal Security and also is a full-time mother to two teen daughters, one of whom has mental health issues.
Viavia won her finalist spot by proving her singing chops with songs including “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler and “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly.
Throughout the competition, her confidence has soared to an all-time high. She is astonished at how much she’s grown.
“The audience is finally being entertained by the real me,” Viavia said. “My passion for music comes from the obstacles I had to go through to get to this point in my life. Life is not easy; however, singing is a motivation technique for me to know that life will get better.”
She hopes her Hilo Idol experience will get her exposure in the music world. Winning would change her life just knowing she accomplished another life goal that would allow her to share her God-given talent with brothers and sisters in the music industry.
Bridge Hartman — The 28-year-old from Hilo has been singing all of his life, with it being a passion since he was 12.
“I’ve literally devoted my life to being a vocalist/performer,” said Hartman, who works as a host at Café Pesto in downtown Hilo.
“Hilo Idol is a beautiful stepping stone for artists like myself to show their home, mine being Hilo, the talent this little town can foster.”
He kicked some bad habits in preparation for the finale — and has been drinking a lot of water; “all the water.”
Hartman chose ballads by Sam Smith and Calum Scott during the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds: “Ballads and torch songs are my bread and butter.” He’s excited to show another layer of his showmanship during the finale and said it would be an honor to become the first Hilo Idol.
Terran “TJ” Kaleiwahea Jr. — The 31-year-old from Mountain View works at Kona Sea Salt Farms one day a week. He also suffers from substance abuse issues and has been clean again now for the past 5 months. He attends drug treatment throughout the week and said winning Hilo Idol would show others battling addiction what kinds of opportunities await them after taking their first step toward recovery.
“I want to be a role model for them and show them that they can recover too,” he said.
He has been singing since he was 9 years old but didn’t really hone his craft until much later in life. Singing is his outlet for everything.
“As someone who has had their fair share of trials and tribulations, I am able to express these emotions that I experienced during my highs and lows through music,” he said. “Whether it’s through lyrics I have written or emotionally tapping into a song that I am singing.”
He thinks people sing their best when they pick a song they can emotionally connect with, which is how he made all of his song choices in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. Those included “When I Was Your Man” by by Hawai‘i’s own Bruno Mars, “Maria Maria” by Santana and “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera
He’s already done a lot in his young life and really would like the Hilo Idol experience to be the start of a new chapter in what he called his “crazy book.”
The competition has been a positive to help balance out the struggles he’s faced early on in recovery. Regardless of tonight’s outcome, Kaleiwahea feels like he’s already won because of that.
Loretta “Green Eyes” Lopes — She is the owner of Katchment Kleaners and a full-time mom and grandma who sings every day: in the shower, putting her grandson to sleep, walking her daughter to the bus stop, wherever. She’s been doing it since she was 2 years old, growing up in a musical family.
“My mother and her siblings always sang,” said the 38-year-old from Hawaiian Beaches, adding they also played the ‘ukulele and spoons. “Music helped us get through our darkest moments.”
Her song choices so far throughout the competition have included “A Woman’s Worth” by Alicia Keys and “Family Portrait” by Pink.
Lopes wants everyone to grow with her on her “glow up”: “And this right here, is my glow up!”
“When you think you can’t, just know you can!” she said. “When they say you can’t, take the leap and show them that you can. Being a finalist, I proved to myself that I can conquer all my dreams and bucket list. I just had to put my mind set on full blast and go for it. I cannot wait to see where this journey takes me after.”
Kacy Sanchez — She said the competition has taught her to set aside her fears and just go for it. The 22-year-old from Honoka‘a is a barista at Waikōloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa who has been singing since she was 3.
Her love for music comes from different life experiences that helped her become stronger as an individual.
“As a child, I silently struggled with depression and had a lack of self-confidence,” she said. “Growing up, I’ve watched YouTube videos for hours to build up my confidence and sang along to Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus. Music became immensely valuable to my life.”
She’s always found comfort and inspiration in singing. It’s always been a safe spot for her. Sanchez’s dream is someday becoming a professional singer.
She most definitely loves R&B, soul and pop music. The songs that got her to the finale stage were “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston, “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele and “Hurt” by Christina Aguilera.
“As a finalist, I feel honored and proud to be a part of such an amazing program that allows hidden talents to come out and play,” she said. “I hope to let others out there know that all you need to do is have the courage to get out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to try something new. Keep going and don’t let fear get in the way because you will make it somehow, some way!”
Josh Lozada — He sings because it fills him with joy — it always has. It also allows him to fill others with joy and take them away to a place of love and magic. He’s been singing since he was 8 or 9 years old and picked up the guitar when he was 14. He’s also a songwriter.
The 33-year-old who works as a mover lives in Pāhoa and is at work more than he’d like to be, so he has to make time for music when he can. One way or another though, his guitar always makes it into his hands eventually, “and I just let my feelings do the talking.”
His songs through the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds included “Just the Two of Us” by Bill Withers and “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin’s Gaye.
Lozada is originally from Southwest Florida and is of Puerto Rican descent, so being an islander is in his blood. He moved to the Big Island in June from San Diego to help his best friend on a permaculture farm. His father previously lived here and Lozada said he can see why with all the beauty the island has to offer.
He hopes his Hilo Idol experience will help him connect with musicians and artists from around the island, saying it would fill his heart to record some of his music locally and get it on the radio. Being crowned winner would allow him space to pursue music and help on his way toward making a living as an artist.
“I came into this competition with the sole purpose of having fun and so far it’s been such a blast,” Lozada said. “Making it to the finals is the icing on the cake. I’m happy to meet all the people that come out to support as well! Don’t be afraid to come introduce yourself and give me a hug!”
Strauss said the competition has truly captured the attention and spirit of the Big Island community.
“The music, talent, gifts, excitement, laughter, interaction, challenges, the overcoming, the facing of the fears, the love and the support for the individuals and the community as a whole is what we are here on this planet to experience,” said Strauss. “You get all of that and more just by attending what was originally intended as a simple singing competition yet has turned into an opportunity for everyone to re-establish and reconnect.”
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 been blown away by the level of talent displayed by the finalists and throughout the entire competition.
“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.”
For the finale, gates open at 5 p.m. at Hilo Town Market, located at 69 Waiānuenue Ave., with opening act 2 Years Apart, a band of teens that recently won the School of Rock Battle of the Bands, on the grand stage outside the showroom from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The competition starts at 7 p.m., followed by open karaoke and dancing to celebrate the first Hilo Idol.
There also will be food trucks and vendors on site. In the event of inclement weather, the show will be moved indoors.
All tables already sold out and more than 100 tickets have been sold for the show. People are encouraged to bring their own chairs and can also bring their own beverages and snacks.
Tickets are just $15 at the gate or $12 in advance online.
“Come out to be part of the magic,” Strauss said.
Editorʻs Note; Big Island Now will post a brief about who wins the competition later tonight. Find a full story from tonight’s event on Sunday afternoon.