Rising star: Greg Amundson advances to state competition in Country Showdown
WADENA -- Greg Amundson doesn't remember how or where he heard about the Colgate Country Showdown talent contest, but entering it has proved fortuitous for the young Worthington man.
Amundson recently won a local Country Showdown event sponsored by radio station KKWS in Wadena and will advance to the state competition, which will be Sept. 1 in Hallock. The regional event follows Oct. 28 at Royal River Casino in Flandreau, S.D. The location of the 2006 national final has not yet been divulged.
The son of Bruce and Joann Amundson of Worthington, Amundson is a 2004 graduate of Worthington High School. As in previous years, he's spending the summer months at his family's home on Lake Irene near Alexandria, but this year, he's also working construction in the area.
"I've been going to Minnesota West," Community and Technical College in Worthington, Amundson explained, "and now I'm going to UND (the University of North Dakota)."
Amundson is currently a biology major, contemplating a pre-med course of study.
But those aspirations could get sidetracked by his musical talent. Local audiences may be familiar with Amundson's performances during several variety shows at the Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington, where he has crooned some popular country-western tunes.
Singing and playing the guitar is somewhat of a recent pursuit for Amundson.
"I just kind of started playing my guitar and singing when I was a senior in high school," he explained.
Although Amundson is reticent about his abilities, he admits that his musical talents were late in surfacing.
"I couldn't sing, that was for sure," he said about earlier years. "My voice changed a little bit."
Amundson first won a preliminary round before advancing to semifinal and final status in the Wadena competition.
"We had nine nights of preliminaries," explained Sherry Linnes, promotions coordinator for KWAD/KNSP/KKWS radio stations in Wadena. "From each of those nights, we had two or three contestants who advanced to the semifinals. We ended up with 26 in the semifinals, but there were probably well over 100 who tried to get in. Out of those 26, seven advanced into the finals for our local contest, and then we had a wild card where they could come back and try to get in one more time, and that was probably 14 more people who tried. Greg was one of the original ones who advanced."
Linnes emphasized that the Colgate Country Showdown is not a karaoke contest -- it is a talent contest. For the Wadena finals, each contestant sang with a live band, which she believes gives them an edge in further competition.
According to the contest Web site, it's the 25th year that Colgate has sponsored the event on the national level.
"The 25th annual Colgate Country Showdown is designed to find the most promising country music talent in America and to give these performers a chance to launch their professional music careers," explains the promotional information. "The Colgate Country Showdown begins each spring with more than 450 local talent contests sponsored by country music radio stations throughout the U.S. Winners advance to their respective state competitions at leading fairs and expositions. Acts then compete for a $1,000 prize, the state title and the opportunity to advance to one of five regional finals. It's the last step before the prestigious national final, which is televised to a national audience from country music's most exciting venues, like the stage of the Grand Ole Opry House, the Grand Palace Theatre in Branson, the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Epcot Center at Walt DisneyWorld, and Universal Studio Florida. Audiences from coast-to-coast cheer on the regional winners as they compete for the grand prize of $100,000 and the national title. A uniform judging system is used at all levels of competition to ensure fairness."
The Web site also notes that well-known country music stars such as Garth Brooks, Sara Evans and John Michael Montgomery have competed in the Country Showdown. At the 1983 national final, Martina McBride and Neal McCoy competed against one another, only to lose to The Jim Arnold Band. In 1985, Sweethearts of the Rodeo won the national final before becoming one of country music's hottest duos.
The Wadena radio stations have participated in the contest for four years.
"I've been doing it every year, and this was probably the best group of eight very talented people to make the finals," Linnes said. "The scores were very close, and it becomes pretty serious from this point on. Locally, Greg won $200 and the chance to move on."
Amundson will represent KKWS at the state level, and a second performer, Mikey Howard, was chosen to represent its sister stations. Linnes plans to work with both the contestants in order to give them a good shot at advancing further.
"I will be brutally honest," she said. "I do coach them a bit to give them some ideas, show them things I have seen in the competition beyond this point. ... Both of my winners are men, which is unusual, because there are usually a lot of women competing. I'll bet they're the only men there, and I think the men are due. Both of them have a very good shot.
"I honestly felt the first time I heard Greg that he was one who had a good shot to make it all the way," Linnes added. "Whether or not he does, it all depends on the performance you give that night and what you're up against. But he was one of the top ones that I felt would be in the running for the final, because of his vocal ability. His voice really stands out."
Amundson is already working on his selections for the next round of competition, and is considering performing an original song.
"I haven't quite decided," he said. "I wouldn't consider myself a songwriter, but I wrote a couple."
The initial prize money of $200 has been put in the bank, and Amundson is nonchalant about his chances for advancement and a possible career in show business.
"It's a tough business to get into," he said. "I'll just take my time and see what happens."
Another local competition for the Country Showdown is scheduled for Aug. 12 at Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Arnolds Park, Iowa.