From the moment she said, “This is one of my originals,” with the confidence that her listeners should already know it, Abby Stephens was one to watch. Wednesday night, the Benson 12-year-old and former Junior Clayton Idol became the 11th and final Clayton Idol.
Stephens, who has recorded her music in Nashville, beat out competitors twice her age en route to winning the swan song of the singing competition, which counted American Idol Scotty McCreery among its winners. Clayton Idol organizer Kimberly Moffett said it was time for something new to pick up the talent baton and run with it.
“It’s bittersweet,” Moffett said. “It was a great run. I think everyone really enjoyed themselves. I think we found some amazing, amazing talent over the years. It’s not the end of finding talent in Clayton; it’s just, I think, time for something different.
For the past decade, Clayton Idol has served as the kick-off to the Clayton Chamber of Commerce’s Harvest and Music Festival. For the finale, Moffett invited back past winners, some as judges, others as performers.
As the judges tallied their scores and determined this year’s winners, 2010 winner Taylor Leopold, 2014’s Eric Gotelli and last year’s Idol J.T. Ackerman each performed a song.
This year’s winners received cash, studio time and signed copies of Scotty McCreery’s book “Go Big or Go Home.” Stephens was the overall winner, but the competition also named winners in each of the three categories. Elom Lewis, a seventh-grader at Archer Lodge Middle School, won Junior Idol. Rory John Zak won Teen Idol, and Meghan Chung was named Young Adult Idol.
Since he’s currently on tour, McCreery didn’t make the trip back for Clayton Idol, but he did record a video message from a dressing room in Indiana.
“Back in 2009 when I won Clayton Idol, I could have never dreamed what would lie ahead,” McCreery said. His mother, Judy McCreery, served as one of three judges and said so much has changed since her son’s Clayton Idol experience.
“I’m just honored to be a part of it,” she said. “There are so many good memories from 2009. It’s hard to believe how much life can change in seven years.”
Stephens appears headed on a similar path. She’s been singing since age 7, finishing as first-runner up in her first Clayton Idol. Stephens, like many Clayton Idol competitors, embraces the country tastes of Johnston County, but Stephens has been writing her own songs for about three years now, focusing on pop country.
A couple of years ago, Stephens took the Junior category and has since graduated into the teen division. Though she’s tasted victory before, she said this one is even better.
“It’s amazing; it feels amazing,” Stephens said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson