By Anthony Costello, September 2017 Web Exclusive.
This year, gayborhood bars welcomed a new singing competition throughout the month of June. The 12 preliminaries to Phoenix Gay Idol 2017 culminated with a finale at The Rock June 30.
As part of the competition, three-judge panels scored contestants on singing ability, song interpretation, stage presence and audience response for a possible total of 100 points. The contestant with the highest combined score from all judges moved on to the finale to faced off for a $1,000 prize and the title of Phoenix Gay Idol 2017.
With his rendition of "The Girl In 14-G" by Kristin Chenoweth, Raul Sanchez was named the winner for the first-ever competition.
Echo caught up with Sanchez to find out more about his singing background and what the Phoenix Gay Idol Competition was like for him, and here’s what he had to say.
Echo: How did you feel when they announced your name as the winner?
Sanchez: Ecstatic. Shocked. Very, very happy. I felt like I accomplished something. No matter people’s perceptions, it was just another affirmation of what I was doing was right. I think everyone should pursue and keeping doing what they love.
Echo: What was the competition like leading up to that point?
Sanchez: It was stressful because you were sort of in the dark with who you were competing against, which added another layer of stress. I competed on behalf of Bliss/ReBAR, which is known for drawing local vocal students at karaoke. The only way to find out the other competitors was to go to the other bars, but I was unable to. It kind of added excitement not knowing who to compete against. You only finally see them on finale night.
Echo: What goes through your mind as you step on stage?
Sanchez: The moment I start to sing everything vanishes. I transform into an instrument instead of a person. I never feel like a solo artist, I’m just another instrument added to the violins and other instruments. It was a true in the moment experience. I didn’t focus on who would win, or anything like that. I was just glad to be there, let me add to the moment and sing for the crowd. It’s one thing I like about Phoenix Gay Idol, it was about the community coming together. It was gay men, women, of every color, size and shape and it was really cool to see that.
Echo: How did you prepare for Phoenix Gay Idol 2017?
Sanchez: One thing that I found is choosing the right song is the most important thing. I stressed and went over about 30 songs I was going to do. In the end I performed three total. I sang “Seasons of Love” when I won the first round at karaoke because it's a big, fun song and it's relatable. Everyone loves Rent. It's a song of community! And the high note I do at the end it's big and amazing!
Echo: What are you best vocal training tips?
Sanchez: No. 1, I’d say, is to have confidence in what you’re going to sing, if you don’t nothing will help. The other would be breath control. Meditating, workouts can help with that. What I always say is sing with your eyebrows raised; it helps with staying on tune, raising your soft palate and letting the music reverberate.
Echo: At what age did you discover you liked to sing?
Sanchez: Back when I was in high school I had a class that I thought would be easy to pass, the men’s chorus, because it was what everyone was doing. After that class it was over; my life was consumed with singing and music.
Echo: What song or band sparked your passion?
Sanchez: Sarah Brightman is my idol. Her and Josh Groban both have that niche of a classical voice, but have a talent for bringing in different styles and genres of music. For Sarah it would be “Fleur Dumai” and “It’s a Beautiful Day.”
Echo: What has been your favorite music genre to sing?
Sanchez: Pop or anything that had Mariah Carey in it. She had an octave range like no other and could evoke emotion through her voice, story and her life. It wasn’t until my later years I started going toward classical and Broadway.
Echo: While growing up and realizing your sexual orientation, how did music and singing factor into it?
Sanchez: It was 100 percent emotional release and is to this day actually. I grew up Mormon and it was one way to release all my emotions. I was bullied in high school, coming out in sophomore year when I was on the football team. I was at the top of the world, but coming out felt like the reverse.
Echo: Has you entered singing contests in the past?
Sanchez: This is the second one I’ve done. I’ve done one for the military called Rising Star. I’ve always been too nervous. It was the military’s version of American Idol. It was awesome because it was two years before coming out and I had a lot of anxiety at the time. It allowed me to be on top of my game, keep training my voice which helped release the pent-up anxiety. It’s a 10-week competition and each week we were tasked with singing a different genre. I get second place in that competition. It felt amazing for me, it was my first time learning to sing solo, because I was so used to singing in choruses and choirs. I’m glad, because I wasn’t ready to win first place just yet. I didn’t have to put myself fully out there yet.
Echo: Tell us more about your experience in the military.
Sanchez: I Just got out of the military after 10 years. It was super intense but the best time of my life actually. When I came out my fifth year in, I had to keep it quiet around "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," and there was a secret group or secret society if you will. On Facebook, we were part of a secret group called Outserve for LGBT service people. When I joined there was only 134 of us. I eventually came out because others needed that leadership. Now we have over 50,000 people in those groups
Echo: Thank you for your service! Apart from singing what other hobbies do you have?
Sanchez: I do spend a lot of time with St. Jude’s Children’s hospital, which is good fun. I’m the food and beverage chairman. I create the food menu for our upcoming gala, what desserts and apps will be passed around, figuring out the wine and liquor selection, finding sponsors, etc.
Echo: Do you have any future competitions in mind?
Sanchez: I don’t actually. I don’t know [of] any new ones coming up. I look forward to singing at Rainbow Festival though to see what that brings. But maybe, we’ll see! What I would like to do is find a way for an outlet, and being a part of a theater crew in Phoenix. Just because it opened up that mental door for me to continue. If anything, I may try out for “The Voice.”