by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
Rapper-dancer Fanaka Ndege was a repeat winner in the Sherburne County Fair Talent Contest, albeit as a solo act this time, on Saturday.
Ndege, an ERHS senior-to-be, won the Teen division, while vocalist Mark Frandsen, 61, of Big Lake was the judge’s pick in the Open class and Ella Dipprey, 9, of Zimmerman, prevailed in Pre-Teen for her guitar/vocal performance.
They earned the right to represent Sherburne County at the State Fair in late August. In each category second and third place were also chosen.
Last year, Ndege and two buddies won Open class with a dynamic dance routine and some rapping by him, and went on to place first in the state fair contest for county fair winners.
Ndege has been developing a solo act, with which he also won ERHS’s Starfest contest this year and performed in a college show at Wisconsin and a professional show in Dallas this summer. He is also an Elk athlete (cross country and track, where he’s a half-miler and long- and triple-jumper).
Ndege impressed the judges at the county fair contest with his ability to connect to the audience; his high-energy, acrobatic dance including a back-flip off the stage unto the floor, and handstanding the length of the stage; and his simple, cheery rap about the fair in which he engaged audience response. The polished performer also does costume changes on stage and incorporated martial arts tools into the act.
Last year, Frandsen, made the audience swoon with his rendition of “Cara Mia My” but had to settle for runner-up in Open behind Ndege’s spectacular dance trio. A producer of video’s for businesses, Frandsen came out on top this time with another stirring, emotional performance with his rangy tenor voice, again making a difficult song look easy, “In Dreams,” a Roy Orbison classic.
Pre-teen winner Ella Dipprey was a picture of pose as she preciously strummed her guitar and sailed through lyrics like “Ain’t about the cha-ching, cha-ching, ain’t about the ba-bling, ba-bling, wanna make the world dance, forget about the price tag” from the Jessie J hit.
The talent contest has an impressive field that certainly made it difficult for the judges to narrow down to three prize-winners in each class.
In the Open Class, Mikayla Olson of Monticello let her fingers do all her talking as she placed second with an uplifting guitar solo of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.
Placing third was Katie Ann Koehler of Coon Rapids with a sassy rendition of “Cabaret,” completely in costume with slinky black dress and fishnet stockings. She is a U of M flute performance major.
In the Teen class, country singer Kelly Lawless, 15, of Cannon Falls, sported cowboy boots and denim as she placed second with her smooth delivery of “Never Alone,” by Lady Antebullum.
Placing third was Gabrielle Arthur, 16, of Watertown, whose elegant soprano rendition of Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer” included wearing a lovely white evening gown.
The song “Popular” proved popular at this contest as Gianna Arthur, 9, of Waterville and Lauren Ziebarth, 11, of Big Lake, both sang the jaunty hit from the Broadway musical “Wicked” about a confident teen queen teaching the “less fortunate” how to be more popular.
Gianna placed second with a flirty, hair-tossing rendition and Lauren placed third with a more energetic version complete with dancing.