Local triumphs in six-state Blind Idol competition

Blind Idol 2016 winner Charity Hampton beams as she receives her prize. Photo courtesy of Katie Hall.

From a stage adorned with an elaborate tan-and-maroon woven rug, competitors serenaded a rapt audience with intricate melodies at the “Blind Idol” finals night on Aug. 6.

Hushed within the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art’s main auditorium, Winston-Salem residents and visitors from faraway states like New Jersey and West Virginia cast an awestruck tenor over the well-filled room. Into that silence, five unique voices split the evening’s air with equally sublime yet recognizably different styles and tones.

To the sound of keyboard accompanist Daniel Seriff’s lively strains, each of the finalists reached the culmination of a dream that began earlier this year. After submitting an audio or video song entry by February, judges selected 20 semifinalists to compete in May and narrowed the field to five positions that night.

Winston-Salem Industries of the Blind employee Anastasia Powell, who is blind herself, conceived of the competition as a way to draw public attention to the rich talent and that runs within the South’s blind community. To that end, the semifinals featured blind contestants from a six-state area surrounding Winston-Salem.

“We believe that all people have the right to succeed in every area of life, but it’s all about the opportunities,” Powell said in an interview.

After six months of preparation, Aug. 6 offered a high-profile opportunity for Charity Hampton, Howard Patterson, Kimberly Taylor, Claire Culbreath, and Taffany Bolger to show off their vocal stylings. Many of the finalists, each remarkable musicians and resilient people in their own right, also took the opportunity to draw attention to the importance of caring for others.

20-year-old vocalist and avid YouTuber Charity Hampton thrilled the audience with her expressive operatic singing voice, and won the competition to thunderous applause. Her tender age and flowing blond hair concealed a vocal power — and four-octave range — that nestle beneath her youthful exterior.

While other “Blind Idol” competitors hail from as far away as Charleston, SC, Hampton — a Rural Hall, NC native — had the opportunity to serenade her own friends and family at the finale competition. Hampton’s versatile voice rolled effortlessly through “Poor Wandering One” from The Pirates of Penzance in the first round of competition, and offered a poignant rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables in the second round.

While Hampton does manage her own chronic health issues, including legal blindness and albinism, she has also spent several years performing in musical theater and singing with the Winston Salem Girls’ Chorus. Now, in addition to studying music, Hampton actively engages with efforts to lift up others within her local community.

For more than two years, Hampton has honed her talent as a member of the multi-racial W. Gene Malloy Scholarship Benefit Choir based in Rural Hall. The scholarship fund, partially supported by the choir’s fundraising efforts, benefits “African-American males seeking to pursue secondary education, or skilled employment training,” according to its Facebook page.

Fellow Blind Idol finalist Howard Patterson shares a similar outlook when it comes to his reasons for singing. “When I sing a song, I feel better,” he said. “It helps to encourage me, and it helps me to encourage others.”

Several attendees voiced a common sense of encouragement buoyed by the competition’s existence. Powell, the imagination behind the concept, said that the event “has been successful so far,” and calls of “encore!” from the audience put Blind Idol in a good position to continue its work.

While Hampton plans to continue using her singing gift to benefit others, that night beneath the lights at SECCA was all about her own swansong. With the robust prize awarded to the winner, Hampton received a boost toward continuing her musical studies and career. Besides $1,000, Blind Idol awarded Hampton eight paid hours in a recording studio — a hot commodity among aspiring vocal musicians — and a professional headshot.

Attired in a floor-length purple printed dress and accessorized with a black sequined fan, Hampton already looked the part of professional operatic diva as she accepted her award to vibrant audience applause. If attendees’ waves of cheers indicated anything, Triad area native Hampton has a dynamic career ahead.

Pullout: For more information, visit Winston-Salem Industries of the Blind on Facebook and blindidol.org.