Christina Jones took a risk by singing a notoriously difficult Whitney Houston song at The Fabulous Fox Theatre on Saturday.
It paid off big time.
The 17-year-old O’Fallon girl won the prestigious Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation Teen Talent Competition and received an $8,000 scholarship.
“I did better than I expected,” said Christina, a junior at O’Fallon Township High School. “I was in my happy place. I let the music take control.”
Christina sang “I Have Nothing,” known for its wide range of notes. She had never heard it before her father, Darryl Jones, called her attention to it on the radio and suggested she give it a try.
Christina’s first-place showing didn’t surprise Amy Scheers, the foundation’s executive director and a former competition judge.
“What came across was something beyond technical ability,” she said. “It was her confidence in delivery of that song. It gave me goosebumps, even in rehearsals.”
Christina also won the Kranzberg Vocal Performance Award for the second year and the Ex’treme Institute by Nelly Award.
“It was a moving performance,” Scheers said. “You saw her as an artist, not just a skilled singer. She has that ‘it’ factor. It’s hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.”
More than 90 acts from a 50-mile radius entered the competition, now in its seventh year. Seventeen advanced through the preliminaries and semi-finals to the finals.
Other finalists included opera singer Rayna Campbell, 17, of Belleville, and ballet dancer Greer Den Houter, 15, of Edwardsville.
Rayna won the Terry Lynford Classical Music Scholarship and the new Most Valuable Performer Award. The MVP is picked by peers and production staff.
“It’s a really special award,” Scheers said. “Essentially, this is a person you would want to perform with again. It’s about professionalism, character, motivation and attitude, and (Rayna) is very deserving of this. She’s just a doll.”
Darryl Jones attended Saturday’s show, along with his wife, Natalie, their 14-year-old daughter, Taylor, and Natalie’s mother, Mary Wilson.
“We are over the moon proud of her,” said Natalie, 52, a business continuity specialist with Ameren.
The family got a kick out of audience members who waved lighted cellphones in the air while Christina was performing, as if they were at a rock concert.
Then came the moment her name was announced as the winner.
“The first thing (my husband) thought about was how hard she worked to get the song the way she wanted it and still maintained a high level of excellence with her grades and other school activities,” Natalie said.
After the show, Christina called her voice teacher, Jessica Ford, in California to share the good news.
Christina started studying with Jessica at age 12 when her family lived in Nashville, Tennessee. Both moved to other states, but they continue to work together via Skype.
On Monday, O’Fallon Township High School aired an interview with Christina on its “Panther Beat” closed-circuit TV news broadcast.
“A lot of people congratulated me,” she said. “It was just an overall good day.”
The Teen Talent Competition was filmed by Nine Network and will be broadcast at 7 p.m. May 22.