Songwriting contest boasts strong line-up

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The woman behind Queenstown’s original songwriting competition says this year’s finalists are stronger than ever. 

Queenstown showbiz stalwart Margaret O’Hanlon and her co-judges have picked 11 finalists to perform their new tunes live at a public show over three nights next month. 

The contestants are then at the mercy of the audience who vote for their favourite each night. 

The winner gets $1000 and the chance to record their song which is then played live on radio in Otago and Southland.
O’Hanlon, the brains behind the wildly successful Queenstown show Starry Eyed, says talent abounded for the second Songstars which debuted last year. 

“The overall level of applicants was much higher in terms of what we got last year. We let some really great people go – it was quite difficult.” 

O’Hanlon says the original tracks this year are very lyric-driven and there’s a lot of country-folk style music plus some alternative numbers. 

“It’s a brilliant line-up. We’ve got a lot of dedicated songwriters and they’re very international.” 

The finalists include musicians from Ireland, England and Brazil. 

“It’s really representative of Queenstown plus there are some good old-fashioned Kiwi kids. The impact of original material and original artists is far more exciting and challenging than putting together a concert of covers.” 

Finalists Mark Williams and Nicole McLean will perform together. 

The winner of last year’s inaugural Songstars contest was Queenstowner Katie Raven with her song Freedom – she’s 
now based in Dunedin and recording her first album.

Songstars 2012 finalists are … 

Marc Hamilton, 38
Cab driver, ex-Queenstown Primary teacher and barista. Loves broccoli and running in the rain. Auditioned because: “I haven’t been writing much lately so it gave me something to work towards and I’m heavily involved in the covers music scene so it makes a nice change to be creating songs rather than playing other people’s …” 

Maggie Ruddenklau, 19
Lincoln University student majoring in animal science. Maggie is originally from Lumsden, but her family now reside in Wanaka. She lists “crutching rousing” as part of her job experience, and has a fear of birds. Auditioned because: “I wanted to enter my song and meet other songwriters in the region and be able to learn from them and their songs”. 

Dominic Hazell, 39
Internet company business developer which means: “I spend an awful lot of time turning stuff off and turning stuff on again.” Born Christmas Eve in Norwich, England, he married his teenage sweetheart at 18. Claims to have met Elvis Costello, Bernard Sumner, Betty Boo and Barack Obama. A high school teacher once told him he “craved the approval of his peers” and he concedes this is true. Auditioned “to show Queenstown how fabulous I am”. 

Holly Arrowsmith, 19
Ziptrek guide. Born Sante Fe, New Mexico, USA. Seven siblings. Wakatipu High graduate called “Gypsy” by friends. Chose to stay in Queenstown instead of university to become a professional musician. Auditioned because:
“I want to share my songs with people and hopefully bless them in some way through that. It’s my heart and what I wish to do all my days.” 

Miki Brown, 19
Millbrook Resort waitress. Spent 2011 in Auckland studying at MAINZ (Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand). Ex-Wakatipu High, took part in Rockquest, Big Break and fronted school jazz band Best Served Chilled. Musical family. Auditioned because: “The prize is a grand and I’ve missed performing.” 

Eamonn McNicholas, 28
Alpine Lodge assistant manager. Born Mayo, Ireland. Has a Mechanical Engineering degree and Masters in Renewable Energy Systems. Once worked as a funeral insurance salesman. One of his most exciting celebrity moments was meeting Andy ‘Gollum’ Serkis in Arrow­town. Auditioned because: “I really want to hear my song with the band and it’s good to get it heard by the public.” 

Renata Rubni, 34
Hilton housekeeping supervisor. Born in Presidente Prudente, Brazil. In Queenstown for six years. Catches herself reading words backwards (“please don’t ask why – totally weird”). Auditioned because she “thought it would be a great opportunity to share my own music, meet other musicians and to be involved with something that can touch people and somehow bring them together”. 

Mark Williams, 44
Own financial planning business. Born in Greymouth, he was delivered in a field as his mother was walking to the hospital. Has been a zoo keeper and trained snakes for a living as well. A resident of Arrowtown, he promises if he wins and becomes “rich and famous, I’ll probably move to Frankton”. 

Nicole McLean, 43
Web design company social media consultant, mother of three. Originally from Christchurch, now calls Arrowtown home. Was a speech and language therapist. Once served Alec Baldwin in a deli in the Canadian Rockies. Once had a job sorting frozen peas at a Watties factory. Auditioned for because: “Willy made me”. 

Ruby Bain, 16
Student, part-time waitress. Born in Perth, but asserts she’s “totally Kiwi”, having owned a pet sheep when younger. As a kid, used to “suck the clothes off the line (“it tasted amazing)”. Been in Rockquest, Big Break and recently made first cut of New Zealand’s Got Talent. Auditioned because “I love writing songs and thought it’d be a chance to show my music and not just sing them acoustically”. 

Lloyd Allen, 22
Traveller, busker. Born in Durban, moved to England after first Christmas. Once worked as a runner for a TV documentary involving Donny Osmond. Aged seven, he and his family featured in a show named Looking Good, which gave tips on how to ‘look good’ before a holiday. Remembers having to show how to use shower caps in a productive way, decribes the whole ordeal as “bizarre”. Auditioned because a friend randomly spotted the poster.