Kerry Craig never had any luck in Nashville or with rock 'n' roll fame.
But the Dallas, N.C., man and 18 others won cheers and ovations Wednesday as contestants in “American Legion Idol” in Paw Creek.
The crowd that gathered at American Legion Post 353 on Brookshire Boulevard for the second of three qualifying rounds was small – about 32 people by the closing performance.
Still, the audience poured it on for a restaurant worker, a Federal Reserve maintenance crewman, a cell-phone salesman and others who stepped up to the microphone.
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That night, they were country singers, a Broadway show performer, pop stars and Frank Sinatra and Roy Orbison romantics.
They are competing for a $500 grand prize, which will be awarded after the final round in December.
The last qualifying round is scheduled for Sept. 24.
Contest organizer Eve Evans also plans to invite the winner to appear on her self-produced prime-time public access television variety show, “Eve's Orbit.”
The real reason for the contest is to support the American Legion and its programs for veterans and their families, Evans said.
“Our troops do so much to keep people free in so many countries, and they protect my freedom here,” she said. “We need to honor our warriors every day.”
Eight uniformed soldiers sat at a front-row table as the performers dedicated songs to them, one day before 9-11 commemorative events.
Craig said he worked all day to memorize the words to “God Bless America,” a song that has special meaning for him.
He was standing at port in Norfolk, Va., a few years ago waiting for a Navy ship on which his son-in-law was returning home from a tour of duty. The crowd of about 2,000 began to sing that song as the ship approached.
Sgt. 1st Class John Robinson said the tributes on the eve of 9-11 were heartfelt.
“For me, it's good to see people remember,” said Robinson, who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. “It reminds me that people understand why we wear this uniform.”
But the night was upbeat, not somber.
Barry Steiger of Matthews wore a black leather jacket and combed-back hair as he sang “Runaround Sue.”
There were colorful moments, with an illusionist and performances by four Elvis Presley impersonators.
The youngest performer, 10-year-old Katrina Carr, said her legs shook before she sang an a cappella rendition of “Gotta Go My Own Way.”
The University Park Creative Arts School student said the shaking stopped when she took the microphone after a performance by her mother, Kim Singletary.
Singletary, an administrative assistant, wore a floor-length black dress for her performance.
Like many contestants, she said her own ambitions as a singer are now secondary to other responsibilities.
“It's mostly for fun now,” she said.