On Monday August 31, Liz Lark Brown eked out a win in the exciting finale of the second annual "MetroStar Talent Challenge" at The Metropolitan Room, beating out Danielle Grabianowski (the first runner-up) and Carole Bufford, who was chosen as the second runner-up. Brown, who, in a sweet twist of fate, was last year's grand prize winner Anne Steele's back-up singer, combined both understated charm and a flair for the dramatic that earned consistently high marks during the eight-week jury and audience-voted singers' competition. The two other finalists, who went head to head against the three top ladies, were the competition's highest-achieving men, Cornelius Bates, and David Gurland.

Each of the five finalists performed a pair of songs, while Lennie Watts, the contest's playfully jaundiced host pulled out all the stops by welcoming several popular singers as bonus performers. Among the added treats were Jay Rogers, Baby Jane Dexter, and Klea Blackhurst. Watts, who sang two songs himself, also brought back last year's winners - Nesha Ward and Stearns Matthews (the runner-ups) and Ms. Steele, who graciously passed the torch at the conclusion of the 2-hour long finale. Playing for the singers throughout the contest was the quick-plinking and genial music director Nate Buccieri.

For the finale, the critic Roy Sander (the jury chairman throughout the contest), was joined at the judge's bench by the award-winning vocalist Klea Blackhurst (who was a core judge during the contest's three trial rounds); the singer, actor and director Eric Michael Gillett; and radio personality Valerie Smaldone. The other judges for the contest were Allan Harris, Baby Jane Dexter, Julie Reyburn, Ricky Ritzel, Marni Nixon, Jay Rogers, and Mary Foster Conklin, and the media personalities Rob Lester, and Bill Boggs.

The five finalists, who were praised for being so evenly matched by a number of the judges and by numerous audience members, were the last ones standing from an initial pool of more than 60 solo singers. The eight-week, jury and audience-voted elimination-round competition began on July 13.

For Brown the Metropolitan Room will produce and present a week-long, prime-time engagement in the winter, plus a multi-track "Live at The Metropolitan Room" recording of the new show. The recording will be produced by JP Perreaux, who ran sound and lights for "MetroStar." Bufford and Grabianowski will open for Brown on alternating nights during the run, and receive demo recordings of their appearances. MetroStar's career-boosting package of prizes and professional encouragements is worth over $15,000.

Open to performers of all ages and backgrounds who have not played a major engagement at The Metropolitan Room, "MetroStar" encourages singers to present well-rounded stage performances in which creativity, innovation and authenticity are prized over vocal fireworks.

For all the latest "MetroStar Talent Challenge" information, consult the club's Web site at Rated "Best of New York" by New York Magazine, the Nightlife and Bistro Award-winning Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, celebrated its third anniversary in May. For reservations call 212/206-0440.

Photo by Maryann Lopinto

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