Melanie Bodnar, who earned top honours at the annual "Quest for the Best" competition here Friday night, isn’t thinking twice about what she wants to do with her $500 first prize.
"I want to use it towards making a [voice] demo tape," she said Monday night from Winnipeg, where she is enrolled in music at university.
"I’m going to send it off to Sony or another music recording company just to see what happens," she added.
Bodnar took first place over 19 other contestants with her rendition of "Think Twice" by Celine Dion. She also captured the contestant’s choice award.
Second place went to Heather Mihichuk ($300), followed by Gary Mathewson ($200), Linda Enge (JVC portable CD player), and Allyson Booth (one night in the jacuzzi suite at La Place Rendez-Vous).
Booth also won the People’s Choice award for the first half of the show. Graham Matheson was the People’s Choice for the second half, and also won the prize for audience participation.
Inga Friesen earned the award for most original song while Dan Jones was the lucky winner of the trip to New York City.
This year’s "Quest" was Bodnar’s fourth in as many years and her second win--having taken top honours in the amateur category in the inaugural show in 1995.
And in her books, "Quest ’98" was her overall favourite, and not just because she won.
"I think it was one of the best. The whole aura of the place was great," she remarked, crediting organizers for their hard work in pulling off a slick show.
"Every one [of the contestants] was absolutely amazing," she stressed.
"As you can imagine, we were very pleased," echoed Heather Herbert, executive director of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, which organized "Quest" in conjunction with the annual Little Amik Winter Carnival.
"Overall it was very well-run and organized."
Herbert also felt the changes made to the awards portion of the program this year was a big plus.
"I think the contestants were very happy with the prize format. It gave them more opportunity to win," she said.
"I think we’ll try to go with that again."
"Quest" went over big with other performers, too, especially newcomers Debbie Connon and Enge.
Connon, who kicked off the evening with her version of "Hot Child in the City" by Nick Gilder, had never been on stage before in her life.
"I was nervous while I was waiting but when I got up there, I felt comfortable," she recalled. "I don’t know what happened. I just relaxed and let myself go."
And though she didn’t place in the competition, it hasn’t deterred her from thinking about coming back next year.
"It was great. I had a lot of fun," she chuckled. "I got a lot of positive feedback."
Enge, who hasn’t competed in singing for about 14 years, was also wowed by the event, especially the calibre of talented voices she was up against.
"I was scared to death! I heard Melanie Bodnar sing on rehearsal night. I was so impressed. It was just amazing," she said.
"And I was surprised by the outcome. I did not expect to place. I will definitely enter [next year]," she added. "I’m already wondering what the heck I’ll sing."
Matheson, who got everyone rocking with his version of "American Pie," said he had some very large stomach butterflies and stage fright even though it was his second appearance at "Quest."
"Absolutely . . . I was very nervous. I was petrified," he admitted.
"It was a hard thing to do because I’m not used to getting up in front of people," he said, noting his friends had convinced him to enter.
"That’s one of the drawbacks to stage presence [marks] for me," he said of his nervousness. "But I was surprised and quite pleased with my [placement], and I’ve considered going in it again."
Still, the evening didn’t go off without a hitch. Will Baranowski, who did "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick, arrived late after driving in from Winnipeg and then was interrupted twice when a fuse blew.
While Baranowski wasn’t available for comment to the Times, his fiancee, Heather Pryde, said he believed the double setback may have affected his standing in the competition.
"He definitely lost some momentum," she said, also adding that perhaps there should be a wider range of scoring that includes a category for singers who play an instrument at the same time.
"It’s hard to do that," she reasoned.
But she did say Baranowski thought the event was a good venue for local talent.
Meanwhile, it’s quite possible that Bodnar will be among those contestants who aren’t back next year--but only because she said she’s had her turn and wants to leave the door open for someone else.
"I’m undecided about whether I’ll return to ‘Quest’ next year. "I do love it but this is my fourth year. I’ve won twice," she said.
"Maybe it’s time to leave it behind and let someone else enter. I’ve had my run," she added.
That person could be nine-year-old Christine Bombay, who wowed the audience Friday night with a karaoke performance of two Shania Twain songs.
She’ll be old enough to compete at "Quest" in a few years.