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Singers audition for Orland’s ‘Senior American Idol’

Arlene Burke auditions for 'Senior American Idol' OrlTownship office. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

Arlene Burke auditions for "Senior American Idol" at the Orland Township office. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 26, 2013 6:06AM



Bob Somerfield, standing behind a lectern, took a couple of long, deep breaths to try to settle his nerves, then launched into singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Another 23 people — all 55 or older — would follow him, entering, one at a time, a small room inside Orland Township’s office building in Orland Park. There, in front of five judges and without musical accompaniment, they tried their hand at songs such as “Witchcraft,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “After the Lovin.’ ”

None of them sings professionally — it’s church choir for many, and some are regulars for karaoke night on Wednesdays at Traverso’s Restaurant in Orland Park. Fifteen of the 24 later would get a phone call, letting them know they’d survived the first round of the township’s “Senior American Idol” competition.

It will culminate May 9 at the township’s fundraiser to benefit its scholarship foundation. A panel of judges, including “American Idol” contestant and Tinley Park native Gina Glocksen, will winnow the field, with a $500 grand prize awaiting the last man, or woman, standing.

Apart from money, there are bragging rights to consider, and perhaps more important, the satisfaction of knowing they’ve mustered the courage to stand up and sing in front of a large crowd that isn’t sitting in pews.

The auditions were a knee-knocking experience for some of the performers, considering that many don’t normally solo and were singing a cappella.

Not having recorded or live music to help a singer get his or her bearings is rough, acknowledged Jim Rallis, one of the judges and director of bands at Cardinal Joseph Bernardin School in Orland Hills.

“You’re kind of naked,” he said.

Rallis’ own band, Sundance, will provide the musical backing for the singers at the May fundraiser at Georgios Banquets in Orland Hills.

Singing singles

Somerfield brought along sheet music to help navigate his way through his song, while Tom Soukup had a few hand-written notes he barely glanced at to perform “After the Lovin.’ ” Tinley Park resident Arlene Burke, who said it had been years since she even sang in the church choir and was nursing a sore throat, impressed the judges with the theme song from “Love Story.”

Janet Almen, an Orland Park resident who sings in the choir at St. Michael Church, said she and her social group for older singles, the Southwest Red Balloon Singles, had suggested the “Senior Idol” idea to township officials. Last fall, the township had success with a similar event, “Dancing with the Senior Stars.”

Almen, who auditioned with Celine Dion’s version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” and four other members of the Red Balloon group, including Somerfield, took part in the tryouts.

He had come to the tryouts prepared to tackle “Danny Boy” or “Amazing Grace” if the judges weren’t keen on the Wizard of Oz classic.

Somerfield, 73, sings in St. Michael’s contemporary ensemble choir, and just recently began taking private voice lessons with Gary Patin, the church’s music director.

“I discovered my voice when I took an audition” with Patin, Somerfield said. “He put me through a very rigorous evaluation.”

Somerfield, who had a brief fling with the saxophone as a youth and later fiddled with guitar and piano, said he didn’t have the time to devote to improving his singing. His wife, Janice, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and died on March 2 of last year. The couple had been married 46 years.

She had been a medical administration coordinator at Oak Forest Hospital for several years, and retired three years ago as a special education coach with Orland’s parks and recreation department.

“It wasn’t a year later (following her retirement) that she started getting ill,” Somerfield said. “She really fought it. She was very, very tough.”



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