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Manteca Idol starts to heat up going into final 9 weeks
Trisha Checketts keeps her rhythm strong while opening up for what would be one of the best songs of the night. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL
This is the point in the year where I say that I’m glad I’m not the one sitting behind the judges’ table determining who it is that has to go home.

Each and every Manteca Idol that I’ve covered (all but the first one) have produced weeks where a variety of singers that each bring a variety of talents to the table and end up having to be evaluated by something that’s concrete – a score on a sheet.

And this time they only get one chance to prove that they’ve got the stuff.

While it’s unfortunate that Casey Rico had to leave the competition for personal reasons, all of the other Manteca Idol contestants got a pass Wednesday night at Chez Shari. It essentially gave everyone a dress rehearsal for the next time they’re put under the bright lights and forced to shine.

But that didn’t mean that the finalists that still remain took some time off or relaxed a bit from their ultra-competitive selves.

Amanda Fleig again opened the contest with the Rhianna song “Take a Bow” that set the tone for the R&B night that the singers would be undertaking perfectly – blending her soulful harmonies with her ability to keep the pace of the song as pristine as a studio track.

Shellie Hoyt was equally impressive with Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” (although I venture to guess that half of the people in the room thought the song was originally written by Lauren Hill and the Fugees) where she managed to pair her voice with the melody as good as anyone. It is something that can at times completely sink a competitor when they’re outside of their traditional element.

But the girl who stole the show on Wednesday was Manteca Idol alum Trisha Checketts used her stage presence and dancing abilities to make Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be” almost secondary to the way she worked the crowd.

It was obvious from the first verse that Checketts would be going on to the next round, but she continued to wow the crowd with her rich and varied voice that served as the cherry on top of a performance that would have gone down as one of the best of the year thus far.

And it never hurts to use a little humor to break up the tension of being on stage.

Brian Rodrigues cracked a few jokes as his chosen song – “Stand By Me” by Benny King – first kicked off, and proceeded to continue along showing the pure enjoyment of somebody who just loves being up on stage singing the music that matters to them.

That purity isn’t something you see every day.

When it came to the Junior Idol contest, Daniella Osoteo made huge inroads with an attempt at “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston – arguably one of the greatest female vocalists of all time.

Not exactly an easy one to tackle.

But not only did Osoteo do the song justice, she rocked portions that would have made other singers slip and didn’t appear uncomfortable at the least – something that goes a long ways in the eyes of the judges.

The night itself was impressive from top to bottom, but it would be the second to last performance that would stop me cold and keep me transfixed on the miraculous voice that was taking a timeless song and giving it some personal meaning.

When technical difficulties forced reigning Manteca Idol Christine Acosta to sing Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” a cappella last year, I thought that I had seen the single best performance of that song – and it will forever be etched in my mind as one of the best on-the-spot renditions I’ve ever heard with my own ears.

And when Katelyn Johnson took the microphone as Acosta introduced her, it was almost as if she was passing the torch. Of course she’d be singing “Natural Woman” and doing it in such a manner that even had Acosta nodding in approval as she nailed it with the grace and style that has become her trademark.

Unfortunately it was Junior Idol contestant Lizzy Acosta who was released by the judges.

So now we’ve got almost a month-and-a-half left before we’re left with a crowned champion. It is something that seems almost impossible given the amazing performances that keep getting turned in week after week.

I’m glad I’m not a judge.