SAFFORD — Eighteen-year-old Austin Pace said he wasn’t nervous before hitting the stage Wednesday night.
“It was a ton of fun. I really enjoy performing; that’s where I’m most comfortable,” he said.
That comfort on stage was evident in his performance of the song “You Are the Reason.” He wowed the judges to be named the Gila Valley Idol for 2020-21 Wednesday at the David M. Player Center for the Arts.
“I wanted to do something that was a little bit different, that could connect more with the audience. One of those softer, more mellow songs,” Pace said.
Pace received $1,500 for his win. Second place and $500 went to Frank Adams, third and a $500 gift card to Richard’s Music went to Hannah Bradley, and fourth place and another Richard’s Music gift card went to Maddy Kamae.
“They all have great voices, right? Every single one of them. Some just a little bit better than others,” said judge and 2012 winner Ethan McBride. “But really, it’s half singing and half performance. And some of them just brought their A-game as far as performance goes. And that’s what made the difference up there.”
A total of 20 hopefuls were on stage for the finals. This year was a hybrid of 2020 and 2021 contestants, as the pandemic forced Double R Communications to shut down the 2020 Gila Valley Idol before the finals could take place.
“I just thank that, after being off for a year, I was surprised we were able to pull it off, I was surprised it went as smooth as it did,” said Double R Communications owner Reed Richins. “I was surprised at the level of talent. I know we say it every year, but every year the talent is bigger and better than the year before. I don’t really know how that happens, but it does happen.”
In addition to the contestants, the audience of about 250 in the Player Center — spaced out due to physical distancing requirements — and the thousands watching online at Gila Valley Central and on the Kat Kountry Facebook page were treated to performances by all three judges — McBride, 2008 winner Adam Crohn and 2018 winner Pete McCormick — as well as performances by 2016 winner Brianna Morris and 2017 winner Darryn Kamae, including a Morris-Kamae duet.
Gila Valley Idol was sponsored by Freeport-McMoRan, Richard’s Music, OneAZ Credit Union, Trophies ‘N Tees, Tyson Richins Edward Jones Investments, Swire Coca-Cola, Sarah’s Bullpen, The Double R Grill, Valley Furniture & Appliance, and Valley Telecom Group.