PITTSBURG — What started out as an internship project 15 years ago has turned into a yearly production which involves the youth of Pittsburg and surrounding cities, Pittsburg Idol.

Pittsburg Idol will have its last production on Saturday at the Memorial Auditorium.

In 2002, as part of their internship requirement, three interns at Pittsburg Parks and Recreation Department came up with a big project which was to give the students experience in coordinating events, Recreation Superintendent Sara Vacca said.

Vacca said they proposed Pitt Idol which was to bring youth to the stage at the Memorial Auditorium and community involvement.

The production has had much success according to Vacca and Pittsburg Idol Master Coordinator Mike Lewark said.

“It just kept getting better every year,” Lewark said.

Lewark, who was one of the MC’s since the beginning, said he remembers the day the three interns came into the bank to ask for a sponsorship.

“I thought they had a great idea,” he said. “This is when ‘American Idol’ was going crazy — it was a big deal.”

Over the years, many of the youth which went through the try-outs and bravely stood in front of 300 to 600 people have grown to become or on their way to be professionals in the musical world.

Lewark said one Pittsburg Idol contestant Spencer Lee, who was about 12 years old at the time, now writes music professionally and wrote "Still I Fly" for the movie “Planes: Fire & Rescue” by Disney.

Another Pittsburg Idol contestant from the past, Abbi Epperson, was part of Pittsburg Idol since she was around five, Vacca said. She will be at the final event as judge.

Other young singers have found their way to Branson and others are now in college and continue to sing, Vacca and Lewark said.  

Lewark said the contestants did not just show up for the contest and sing. Part of the experience was to learn stage presence — cosmetologists students come in for hair and makeup similar to the show “American Idol” and the contestants learn how to hold the microphone and walk about the stage.

Lewark said it sad to see the production end, but he looks forward to what the PPRD can come up with in the future.
“I feel little sadness,” he said. “I think it was a wonderful opportunity for a lot of of contestants — they found out their interests in music and performed on stage.”
Lewark said he thanked those who were involved in the event for the past 15 years for the experience to watch the contestants come together and grow into young adults — Bob Burke, Jason Huffman, Kim Vogel, Sara Vacca, friends and family of the contestants and the interns, he said.

Vacca said she thanks the community members who were involved and the banks which sponsored the event through the years, University Bank and Community National Bank and Trust.

Although Pittsburg Idol is ending, Vacca said she hopes to see a new program which expands to other talents — including dancing, comedy and acting.

“We had a lot of fun with it and had a really good run,” she said. “Every program has a life expectancy, we want it to end on a good, positive note.”

Showtime information:

Tickets will go on sale at 6 p.m. and seating will begin at 6:30 p.m. The show will start at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Auditorium.

Tickets for three years and under are free. Ages four to 17, and 55 and older are $3. Tickets for ages 18 to 54 are $6.

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.