Their powerful pipes set two Red Deer singers apart from assorted dancers, acrobats and a prancing dog on Canada’s Got Talent.
Both 12-year-old operatic phenom Olivia Smith and soulful singer/songwriter Michelle Lee, 28, got a big thumbs up from the show’s three judges on Saturday when their individual auditions aired for the Citytv talent show. Comic actor Martin Short, opera soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and producer/songwriter Stephan Moccio couldn’t heap enough praise on the two Central Alberta singers.
Smith, wearing a pink full-length gown, earned a standing ovation from Short, who called her voice “almost miraculous” for someone of her age.
Moccio said she went beyond skill to “feel the music.”
Brueggergosman later said Smith “is a 12-year-old me.” This almost brought the Red Deer youngster to tears. “I think she’s amazing,” said Smith of Brueggergosman.
Like the more famous opera singer, Smith has been taking private voice lessons for years. Although Smith aimed to be a country crooner at age six, her parents put her into classical voice training. She can now sing in five languages, but enjoys Italian best “because of the way it feels and flows nicely when you’re singing.”
The two-time provincial classical music champion in the Kiwanis Music Festival has performed at the Big Valley Jamboree and the Penticton Peach Festival. But that didn’t mean Smith wasn’t plagued by nerves when it came time to get in front of the TV cameras.
She recalled having to run to her mom for last minute reassurance. “She told me, ‘Remember, you are Olivia Mary Catherine Smith and you’re going to do a great job!’ ” Smith later introduced herself on stage by all four names before performing Caro Mio Ben by Tommasso Giordani.
When Brueggergosman invited her to return and vie to become a semifinalist, “I freaked,” said Smith.
All three judges also gave Lee, a service worker at a local car dealership, a forward pass — which means she could also be one of 36 semifinalists chosen on the March 26 show.
Lee has “one hell of a voice,” according to judge Moccio.
Brueggergosman said she “soared” after hearing Lee’s goose-bump-inducing performance of To Make You Feel My Love, while Short said, “I’m so happy you were this fantastic.”
The SCTV veteran was not relishing the prospect of having to dump a kidney donor — Lee revealed on the show that she had donated a kidney to her brother Wade in 2009, “so we’re tied forever.”
While the show likes a good human interest story, Lee’s mother, Trudy, believes her daughter’s strong, resonant voice stands on its own merit. And the studio audience agreed, judging by the enthusiastic reaction to her performance.
Michelle studied music in Australia, has recorded a CD, and performed in the lead-up to the 2009 Juno awards after winning an Edmonton Bounce radio contest.
Trudy hopes the show’s national exposure will help her daughter ignite her singing career.
Both Lee and Smith auditioned for Canada’s Got Talent last fall, but were ordered not to speak about it until after their auditions aired on TV last weekend.