Country Idol 2016

By KJ Philp, February 2016 Issue.

To kick off rodeo weekend, the top contestants in the Valley’s annual karaoke competition will compete for the title of AGRA Country Idol 2016.

The sixth annual competition will take place Feb. 12 at 9 p.m. at the Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds in Laveen, Ariz. (Read Echo's full rodeo coverage in "The Rodeo Rides into Town" here.)

To qualify for the finals, contestants must participate – and win – a preliminary contest at local bar. Prelims, hosted by Brandon Thomas and Sasha Sinclair, started at the Rock on Dec. 7 and will continue Jan. 22 at OZ, Jan. 26 at Charlie’s, Feb. 1 at Karamba, Feb. 3 at Cash Inn Country and Feb. 4 at Anvil.

The winner of Country Idol 2016 receives the opportunity to perform during the Arizona Gay Rodeo, Kenny Chesney and Ellie Goulding concert tickets, an autographed guitar from Hensley Distribution (Bud Light) and other prizes.

Echo caught up with Richie Josef (pictured), Arizona Gay Rodeo Association entertainment director, to find our more about this year’s competition.

Echo: In your words, why should our readers come tryout and/or support the AGRA Country Idol competition?

Josef: This is such a fun and inviting event and we strive to make this year’s competition very diverse and open to all! We have changed a few rules and we have opened the playing field to make this years competition much more inviting.

Echo: Is it true that you don’t necessarily have to sing country songs to compete?

Josef: This is true! We have learned from previous Country Idols that not everyone knows country and sometimes it is hard to sing a song or genre you are not 100 percent comfortable with, so we’ve changed things up a bit. Now contestants may choose songs from any genre, but the only request is that if you make it to the finale to have at least one song with a country twist. We made this change to be more diverse in our competition and to allow other singers who did not feel they could compete in previous years [the chance] to be included.

Richie Josef, AGRA entertainment director. Photo by Fernando Hernández.

Echo: With 13 prelims, each taking place at a different local bar, what does community mean to the Country Idol competition?

Josef: Like anything we put our name on, we truly take pride in our efforts and we want to make sure that every venue, community member and social sub-community are all included. We are working hard to bring the LGBTQ community together for an amazing event that everybody will continue to talk about each year.

Echo: What’s the atmosphere of the prelims like?

Josef: Just like any other competition, nerves are high. The difference is that most of our prelim contestants are at their home bar/club of choice. So that tends to make it a little bit easier. Our hosts Sophia Sinclair and Brandon Thomas are just a hoot. They have an amazing stage and showman presence that keeps the audience and contestants laughing all night.

Echo: What are the rules for trying out?

Josef: It’s really simple actually, just show up at least 15 to 30 minutes prior to the start time and pick out two songs … The contestants [then perform] for the judges and each song is judged from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. Once the competition is complete we do a final tally of points and bring the top two contestants on stage, the judges then pick the winner with audience participation.

Echo: Can you explain the process for advancing in the competition to us?

Josef: We have one winner and a runner up from each prelim. The winner will go to the finale and represent their participating venue. If, for some reason, the winner will not be able to make it to the finale, then the runner up will go in their place. At the finale there will be the winners from each venue, so a total of 13 contestants, competing to be the winner of Country Idol 2016!

Echo: What would you say to anyone interested that just might not have the guts to tryout?

Josef: We would love to extend an invite to anyone who would like to compete or is even thinking about competing. This tour has been so much fun and we have made tons of friends and new supporters. We recommend coming in, getting a little bit of liquid courage in you and singing out those lungs, baby, because you have a rodeo to perform at!

To find out more about Country Idol, visit or search “Country Idol 2016” on Facebook.

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