Dozens of Hillsboro teenagers gathered last Saturday at Century High School, anxiously awaiting the 45 seconds that could change their life.

When their name was called, they stood before a panel of four of judges and sang — with no accompaniment — a snippet of a song of their choice.

It’s part of the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation District’s “Hillsboro Teen Idol” event, now in its fifth year.

A singing contest might seem like a strange event for a city to host, but parks spokeswoman Mary Loftin says it fits perfectly with the parks bureau’s mission.

“Our mission is to provide diverse, innovative and exceptional recreational and cultural opportunities that enrich the lives of our citizens,” Loftin says. “Teen Idol hits every one of these points.”

Hillsboro’s event, she says, was inspired by a “Teen Idol” event hosted by Portland Parks & Recreation. Portland ran its program for a few years until it was taken over by a private producer in more recent years.

Hillsboro’s continues to remain public, open to any middle- or high-school age student that lives in the city of Hillsboro.

Last year, eighth-grader Faith Allen swept the contest from a field of 98 hopefuls.

Saturday’s audition was the second of five this season. Judges — who range from private vocal teachers to community members that enjoy listening to music — will score each performer on voice, stage presence and appearance, and then narrow the field to 10.

The top 10 finalists will sing to a packed house at a grand finale event; this year it’s set for the Walters Cultural Art Center on Feb. 2.

Based on the performances, the judges will choose the top three, and then just as on TV’s “American Idol,” the winner is decided by an audience vote.

Unlike the TV show, Hillsboro isn’t quite ready to have viewers call or text in their votes. They do it the decidedly old-fashioned way — with slips of paper labeled one through three, submitted directly from the audience that night.

As a result, past winners swept the vote because they brought their whole dance troupe or rallied the most supporters.

“Some have said it’s not fair, it’s a popularity contest,” Cindy Allen says of the voting process. “But so is American Idol.”

Kids age six and older can submit a vote, at a cost of $3 each. Funds go to support the TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD -  Taylor Belk (left) and Dareshay Harper practice in the hallways of Century High School for their auditions for Hillsboro Teen Idol. TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD

Last year’s winner was Faith Allen, now a freshman at Century High. Her win came with a $100 gift card and chance to sing in the community. Allen sang at the groundbreaking for the Hillsboro Stadium, as well as the national anthem for the ASA tournament.

In years past, the winners were all girls, and all in middle school. Kirsten Bundy was a seventh grader at Brown Middle School; Emily Upton was a seventh grader at Evergreen Middle School; and Noelani Gonzalez was an eighth grader at Evergreen.

Second and third place prizes are also awarded.

Allen thinks the program will grow each year.

The contest originally started as a two-day event: auditions and then finals a week later. Last year it expanded to five locations, and doubled the opportunity.

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