(ADAM VOGLER) [Order this photo]
The winner was Rachel McDowell, 26 of Risco, Mo., who sang "Stand by Your Man" and "Broken Wing." She won $1,000 cash, a $200 gift card from West Park Mall and a recording session at 326 Productions in Anna, Ill.
Most of the contestants have been singing from an early age. The exception was John Meyer of Perryville, Mo., who was also the only male in the competition.
"I've been singing two years," said Meyer, 21. "It's funny. I had a bad breakup with a girlfriend and picked up a guitar and wrote a song."
He's been singing ever since. Currently he has a song, "Take It From Me," getting air time on the radio.
"At first I was nervous on stage," Meyer said. "Now I look forward to being onstage. It's fun."
The contestants delivered a wide range of songs: country, Elvis, Queen, Barbra Streisand and Broadway show tunes.
"I think they're great," said Sherry Sissom of Cape Girardeau. "Really and truly, I am very impressed."
At 14, Sylvia Kern of Scott City was the youngest performer. She moved from one end of the stage to the other as she danced to her song choices, "That Song In My Head" and "Swingin'."
"I'm nervous until I get on that stage and the first note comes out," Kern said. "Then it's like coming home. It's magical."
Olivia Gordon, 16, of Anna offered up performances of Etta James' "At Last" and Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."
"I feel like I'm my best self when I'm on stage," Gordon said.
The finalists' journey began with live auditions at West Park Mall earlier in the year. Three judges there chose 40 winners, who were split among four preliminary events at Bootheel Harley-Davidson, the Seminary Picnic in Perryville, the Pulaski County Fair in Illinois and Port Cape Girardeau restaurant. At each event, judges picked one winner and the crowd chose one. The winners advanced to the SEMO District Fair as finalists in the Heartland Idol contest. The ninth finalist was the senior winner of the karaoke contest at the fair.
Kandi Graviett, 24, from Cape Girardeau was last year's winner. She performed Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain"' for the crowd Wednesday night.
"I've been judging preliminaries," Graviett said of her time this year. "I've been doing a lot of singing events with work -- Big River Broadband, and waiting on original material to use at 326 Productions."
Arena Park, Cape Girardeau MO