U first-year student is Minnesota Idol finalist

Ryan Dionne

Acquaintances know her as “the girl with big, curly blond hair,” but this University vocal performance student has more than just thick locks.

First-year student Nicole Allen sent her audition videotape, containing her rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” to KARE-TV secretly hoping to become the second Minnesota Idol.

“I just hope it’s exposure. I hope even if I don’t win that maybe someone heard it,” she said. “I’m hoping it sparks something.

This is the second year of Minnesota Idol, a localized spin-off of Fox’s “American Idol.”

Friday morning, viewers made the Eden Prairie native one of three finalists for the competition.

Until Feb. 25, each person who logs onto the KARE-TV Web site can vote for the Minnesota Idol winner.

KARE will announce the winner that same morning.

Of the 600 entrants, 20 quarterfinalists were chosen to perform Jan. 8 at the Mall of America in front of about 700 people.

After the performance, a panel of judges, mostly from Minnetonka-based Liquid 8 Records, cut the competition to eight – ranging from 15 to 29 years old.

Allen said she has been singing since she was about 3 years old with dreams of writing her own music and having a voice similar to Christina Aguilera or Jessica Simpson.

Allen sang solos in church as early as age 4, participated in choir and starred in musicals since middle school. She also sang the national anthem for the Gophers men’s basketball game Dec. 6.

Wendy Zaro, Allen’s University voice professor, said she detected Allen’s talent when she saw Allen star in a high school musical.

“Instantly, I took a liking to her, and I saw a talent that was above many girls her age,” Zaro said.

After she missed last year’s entry deadline, Allen’s decision to enter Minnesota Idol this year was spontaneous. She said she did not expect to be called back.

“This year I sent it in and was like, ‘Well, you know. We’ll see what happens,’ ” Allen said. “Sending in a tape is not, to me, a good audition.”

The offshoot of “American Idol” received more than 600 videotapes from residents within the KARE viewing area hoping to land a recording contract with Liquid 8 Records.

“Last year we received 200 tapes, so this year was triple that,” said Amy Lundeen, executive producer of the KARE morning news.

According to Bobby Z, contest judge and head of artists and repertoire at Liquid 8 Records, each contestant is judged on pitch, tune, tempo, presentation and appearance.

Unlike “American Idol” judges, the Minnesota judges do not belittle contestants face-to-face.

“It’s not like ‘American Idol’ where you have that human-to-human contact thing,” Z said.

For Allen, balancing her recent stardom, school and social life while trying to adjust to college has been demanding. But the pressure of performing has softened the bumps of her first year at the University.

“In some weird way (the competition) takes some of the stress off,” Allen said.