Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Local finalists are already The Next Star

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Two out of six. Or, if you prefer, one out of three. Any way you juggle the numbers, there's a 33 per cent chance that YTV's The Next Star will be a Winnipegger.

When the show's finalists take the stage for Sunday's finale (which airs at 9 p.m. on YTV), two members of the Top 6 will have friends and family back in Winnipeg cheering them on and hoping the title of The Next Star is carried back to our talent-blessed Prairie burg for the first time in the show's five-season run.

Issy Dahl, 15, and Grace Johnston, who just turned 16, are both very hopeful that they've made enough of a musical impression on the show's audience to earn the votes that will tilt The Next Star's tote board their way (voting, by text message and online at, continues until 6 p.m. Sunday).

"Honestly, it would just mean the world to me to end this experience with something like that," Dahl says in a telephone conversation from Toronto, where the Top 6 has been rehearsing for the past couple of weeks in preparation for Sunday's big show. "The whole thing has been so amazing and awesome, it would just be crazy (to win). I can't really get my head around that."

Johnston offers a similar sentiment: "I think I'd be really proud of myself if I was The Next Star, out of all the thousands of people who auditioned," she says. "It would mean a lot of me, and it would be really nice to get the prize and all the publicity and everything."

The winner of The Next Star receives a prize package that includes two songs to be distributed by Sony Music Canada, a $5,000 shopping spree at Sears and an Epiphone Masterbuilt acoustic guitar.

Of course, given the numbers involved, there's also a 66 per cent chance The Next Star won't have a Winnipeg address. But given all they've gained from the experience of being on the show, neither of the local hopefuls would consider such a result to be a loss.

"Being in the Top 6 is the biggest thing," says Johnston. "If I won, that would be awesome, but I think we've kind of already won. We've all gone through all these experiences, and we've all got so much in common with our love for music. It kind of bonds us together."

Dahl added that the Top 6 has become such a tight-knit group of friends that no matter who wins, everyone is going to be happy with the outcome.

"We're really close," says Dahl, "so whoever wins, I'll be really happy for them and will feel really positive about it. We're like a family, and we get along really well. I think the fact that we've been under all this pressure together makes it easy to connect, because we've all been going through the same thing."

Sunday's live finale (which will actually be broadcast here on a tape-delayed basis because Winnipeg receives the West-Coast feed of YTV's signal) takes place at the Canada's Wonderland theme park north of Toronto, and will feature the Top 6 finalists taking the stage to perform their own original singles.

In addition, special guests Cher Lloyd, Shawn Desman and Neverest will contribute musical numbers to the show before host Adamo Ruggiero -- aided by judges Keshia Chanté, Tara Oram and Mark Spicoluk -- announces the Season 5 winner of The Next Star.

Whatever the outcome, it promises to be an unforgettable evening for Johnston, Dahl and their Top-6 comrades -- Calgary resident Darren Espanto and Ontarians Brooklyn Roebuck, Ryan Hawken and and Amer Dhaliwal.

And then ... sigh ... next week, it's back to "normal" life in their respective hometowns.

"I don't think I'm going to let this all end," says Dahl, who will resume classes at Miles MacDonnell Collegiate. "I'm still going to continue trying to work in the music industry and get myself out there. I think it's a good head start, and now I'm ready to move on myself as an artist."

For her part, Johnston said she expects her friends and classmates won't allow all the TV-star fuss and bother to go to her head.

"I think people will be really supportive," she says of returning to classes at Gordon Bell High School. "I've had lots of support from my friends on Facebook. It's been really great. ... I'm going to be in musical things at school -- I'm in the dance troupe and I'm also in the audition choir, too."

And besides, on top of everything else they'll take away from their time on The Next Star, both Dahl and Johnston have each gained a great new friend whose shared musical passion should provide a lifetime of fun.

"I think it's good for Winnipeg to have two people representing," says Dahl. "Grace and I are really good friends now, and when we're in Winnipeg, we hang out with each other. So it's good, because when I leave and I really miss everyone here, I'll still have her."

Adds Johnston: "I really like that she's from Winnipeg, because when we all go home, I'll still have someone to hang out with and do music together. I really like that part." Twitter: @BradOswald


The Next Star: Finale

Hosted by Adamo Ruggiero; featuring Issy Dahl and Grace Johnston

Sunday at 9 p.m.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2012 G5

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