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Whistler's Got Talent crowns a winner



Well it wasn't the bloodbath we had been hoping for at Whistler's most popular, unsatisfactorily-titled talent contest. Nor was the winner much of a surprise either but it's been a fun four weeks for everyone concerned, except maybe the losers but who cares about them, right folks? Behold! Rachel Thom, Whistler's Most Talented or whatever.

( Reader applause required. )

Well, since we mined Rachel's personal history in these pages two weeks ago there's not much to write about so we'll entertain you with some notes from the competition last Thursday:


Contestant # 1: Jon Shrier

Weapon of choice: Acoustic guitar

Oh, Jon Shrier, wooing the audience with an original number about a "pretty girl" he sees when he closes his eyes. And then another song about a "nasty mean girl" he took to bed the first night he met her. Such different women you meet, Jon Shrier! All these songs delivered in John Mayer-isms, so it's no wonder. These are passionate, heartfelt songs - he means it goddamn it, and I'm worried that I, too, may be falling in love with him.  Except, well, he keeps singing about women so maybe this love isn't meant to be.

The judges are on their steady descent toward inebriation, letting Jon's cover of Roxanne wash over us much like the fine scent of bacon. The man behind the competition, Dr. Dave, appears between a forest of elbows. "I've been working on an acoustic version of Roxanne for 10 years!" he says. Good for you, Dave!


Contestant #2: Rachel Thom

Weapon of choice: Keyboard; aided by a drum kit, courtesy of Phil T. Beats.

She's stuffing the house with an original tune, the melody of which - despite the piano and her pop-diva delivery - sounds suspiciously similar to Silverchair's Isaiah's Son. She smiles when the song's done and says in a sweet voice, "It's inspired by teen angst." Angsty teens Silverchair must have slipped into her unconscious whilst writing this exultant ditty.

It's incredibly packed in the Crystal Lounge. Space is limited and someone has settled his elbow on the back of my chair. He's a joke-teller, this dim-faced Australian fellow, and he seems to be the heart of the party behind us. Every joke is punctuated by pronounced arm movements, causing myself and Judge #1 to experience sporadic elbow jabs at various parts of our bodies.

Rachel loses points for playing Bad Enough , an original number that is actually good enough for... me to like it, but she played it two weeks before. It's a catchy song though, heavy on hooks and other elements mandatory for radio play, and I think it's all about wanting something bad enough to go out and get it. And it's true, I'm inspired, because all I want is that man's elbow out from between my shoulder blades.

Dr. Dave is darting around the room, nervous that the sound levels aren't quite right but most of the people in here are laymen with no or little ear for the nuances of sound. And anyway, it's so loud in the room as it is that the judges can't hold a streamlined conversation:

Judge #1: "How old is Rachel?"

Judge #2: "I think she's 20 or 21."

Judge #3: "I can't imagine being 21 anymore."

Judge #4: "Rachel's 21?"

Judge #2: "Is she?"

Judge #4: "I don't know - that's what I thought you said!"

Judge #1: "Didn't you do the write-up on her? You should know."

Judge #4: "Maybe I did ask her. I don't know. I'm like a fish, man. I can't       remember one minute to the next."

Judge #3: "You're a Phish fan?"

And so on. All of this is spoken over a Gothic take on Billie Jean. It ends to considerable acclaim, and Dr. Dave appears through an even denser forest of elbows to say, "I've been working on an acoustic version of Billie Jean for 10 years!"

Way to go, Dave!


Contestant #3: Jenny Maccormack

Weapon of choice: Keytar; two guitars and a handrum

The judges, now half-sauced, were expecting big things from Jenny and her band. We're an unpleasant crew when we're disappointed - all snarling fangs and foul dog breath, howling for the blood of the insufficient. We four judges demand exuberance and perfect pitch and technical proficiency from our amateur performers.

Maybe it was because their entertaining performance the week before was so unexpected, or maybe Jenny's nerves are getting to her this time around, but this jambe -driven version of Jolene, while pleasant, isn't wowing us and the crowd's  chatter has swelled to such a volume that her vocals and the guitars are difficult to hear.

The judges all agree, and all we can focus on, it seems, is that she should be fronting a jazz quintet in a basement bar in some metropolitan city centre rather than spittin' Tribe Called Quest rhymes to a group of 22-year-old ski bums on a Thursday night.

But some lady behind me says, "She's amazing. How can I live in Whistler and never have heard them play before?" So clearly not everyone is in agreement on this issue and this judge is exactly what I had always feared: a snooty know-nothing know-it-all.


Contestant #4: Laurelle (a.k.a. Laurel) Robichaud

Weapon of choice: Acoustic guitar

She's playing solo this time around, having been accompanied by a gangly fellow named Ben who, she says, is traveling the world at this particular moment. Silly fool. Has he no idea how important the critiques of these four judges could have been for his career? We're one step removed from Canadian Idol and Breakfast Television on CityTV. He could have been moderately famous for a while! ( Editor's note : none of these claims are accurate.)

Anyway, the place has emptied out considerably now that Jenny Mac has finished her set but the noise of the crowd is still overwhelming. Laurelle's vocals are awash in white noise crackling through the speakers. A great voice, reminiscent of Jewel's and arguably the prettiest of the bunch tonight, is now deformed by static.

But she's a gem to watch anyway, all alone with the guitar slung around her neck, all sensuality and perfect pitch. The underdog to Rachel's mastiff abilities. She's a true Whistler gem, seemingly sprung from tree roots and with a little more focus, more refined songwriting and maybe a year or two down in the city, she could make something of herself.


Contestant #5: Jake Newton

Weapon of choice: Acoustic guitar

He is by far and away the most talented musician in the room. His fingers manipulate the fret board like Tera Patrick all over that guy from Biohazard. It's love baby. True, rained-from-the-heavens, soaking-down-to-the-toes Love .

But there's hardly anyone here to see it, which is sad, and Jake's a little grumpy about it. "I don't care if you're bored," he says, "I'm playing it anyway!" The judges give him extra points for his nihilistic spirit.

He plays all original tunes that were intended for the electric guitar as hardcore heavy metal, but instead end up sounding like flamenco played at your parent's favourite Mexican resort. It's the coolest performance of the evening.

Dr. Dave, meanwhile, is handing out free swag from the sponsor, Kokanee, to the table behind us, ransacking the box, vultures with human forms, picking the box clean.

"Never pass on free clothes or food, my momma used to say," Dr. Dave says.

Way to go, Dr. Dave's mom!

So that was the evening in a nutshell. See y'all next year!