NC teacher lets it go, wins singing contest

Sometimes, it pays to listen to the children. Durham Academy music/drama teacher Elizabeth South has her students to thank for a high-profile contest she just won, Ryan Seacrest Productions’ “March Music Madness.”

Using GarageBand, South recorded a version of “Let It Go,” the wildly popular Oscar-winning song from Disney’s “Frozen.” It was part of South’s preparation for her kindergarten students’ upcoming recital of Disney and Broadway songs, which happens May 2. And South’s students loved her version so much that they insisted she put it on YouTube so they could listen to it again.

So South put her homemade video version online on Feb. 6. While it didn’t quite go viral, it did pick up a very respectable number of views, starting with 70,000 the first day.

It was at about 600,000 views a few weeks later when South got an email from Ryan Seacrest Productions, the company run by the longtime “American Idol” host. The news was that her version of “Let It Go” had been chosen as one of 25 finalists in a cover contest. Five rounds of public voting later, South has been declared the winner - and her “Let It Go” is at more than 1.2 million views.

“It was nothing I entered,” South said. “They found me, which I think is the biggest honor. There’s not a prize or any money for this, but it’s some great recognition. And they’ve been asking, ‘How can we help your career? Introduce you to any labels, some producers?’ So I’m hoping it might open some doors.”

This isn’t South’s first music coup. Last year, she released a single called “I Love You” with a cameo duet from country superstar Vince Gill. Along with putting out a half-dozen Christian, country and pop albums, she’s also reached the finalist round twice in the News & Observer’s “Sunday Star” gospel-music contest.

“I’d love to be able to do music full-time, but I also love teaching and my students,” she said. “Some people have told me that Disney should use my voice in something, which would be like a dream. If a big label wanted to sign me to tour and record full-time, I would not say no. It would be nice to get enough financial help to keep making albums, because I can’t afford to keep paying for them myself. But I’m content where I am. It’s all good.”