Sporting tulle, satin, torn jeans and sequins, the finalists in the Ennis Idol competition started Saturday evening in high style, hopping out of a black limo as family and friends cheered them on from the steps of the San Jacinto auditorium.

It was a big night for 10 of the finalists who prevailed over weeks of auditions to face the music — and the judges — in the annual event that has become a mainstay fundraiser for the Ennis High School choral department.

Emcees for the event were Rebecca Wilkins and Kristin Gaddis. The pair kept up a steady banter with judges Aaron L. Myers, Lora Duncan and Todd Jones, all of Corsicana. The judges found something encouraging in each performance, offering the all-girl cadre of competitors advice on managing key changes, vocal control and choreography.

Audience participation ranged from clapping to concert-style waving.

Near the end of the show, all the finalists participated in a medley that included the rock anthem, “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Choreographed by choir director Shannon Eddins, the event brought the crowd to their feet.

Last year’s Ennis Idol winner Stephanie Wylie showed why she won last year, performing the Carrie Underwood hit, “So Small.”

Grace Nelson showed a great deal of poise for a freshman, currying points with the judges for her sequined outfits and polished demeanor as she belted our “When a Man Loves a Woman” in her first Ennis Idol appearance.

“It was very nerve-wracking, but then you realize they’re there just to hear you sing,” she said.

Some of the singers worked the crowd a little more — Kacie Walker worked Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet” and Ashley Jones managed heels and the driving beat of the Aretha Franklin hit, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Sydney Hover’s spirited version of “I Love Rock and Roll” took her skipping down into an enthusiastic audience — and earned her an impressive second place as family members waved posters cheering her on.

The evening had its share of soulful ballads, including Isabella Alhadjaboodi's haunting delivery of “Please Come Home Soon” and Amber Burge’s great cover of the positive Christina Aguilera hit, “Don’t You Bring Me Down Today.”

Audience members from older generations found pop favorites they could relate to in Emily Alhadjaboodi’s “You Saved The Best For Last” and Ke’Asha Stanley'’ “Back At One.”

In third Place, Veronica Henley’s delivery of “Reflection” was marred by the artist’s words stepping on her own pretty vocals, but her strong soprano still came through.

But it was junior Bianca Gatlin’s sweet delivery of “Imaginary,” which included air guitar and perfect pitch, that evoked a rock-tinged Alison Krauss and won over  the judges — and the voters in the audience.

“All the people who cheered me on and forced me to be in Ennis Idol, I thank them — they are the rock stars,” she said.

As her family gathered around her after the show, she had her feet on the ground as she pondered the possibility of a music career.

“Now I’ve won this, I think I’d like to give is a shot — but I think I’d rather be a writer,” Gatlin said.

Sophomore Ivy Cryer was one of several staffers helping run the event. As choir manager, she found Ennis Idol a busy time but a fun one.

“I just like getting to be able to see everyone perform and helping to set it up,” she said. “People like to see people they know sing and do good.”

Additional finalists included Chrislyn Perkins, Lauren Ott, Tekentria King, Kelsey Rodriguez, Heather Dodson and Nayla Villareal.

E-mail J. Louise Larson at