Brittany Swan on Friday makes a sign for the “American Idol” watch party set for Sunday at The Quarry Tap Room in Hallowell, the site of the annual Central Maine Idol contest. The party is being held in honor of Julia Gagnon, who won last year’s competition at the Water Street restaurant and is set to appear Sunday on the national TV show. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

HALLOWELL — Brian Root knew Julia Gagnon was one of a kind when he saw her perform at Central Maine Idol.

“Every week, she got a standing ovation,” said Root, who hosts the Hallowell-based singing competition, which Gagnon won last summer. “We knew there was something special there, even on the little stage at Quarry Tap Room.”

Now Root, and many others, will get to watch her on a bigger stage, as the 21-year-old Gagnon auditions for the television show, “American Idol.”

The episode airs on ABC Sunday at 8 p.m. To celebrate, The Quarry Tap Room, where it all began for Gagnon, will host a viewing party.

The Central Maine Idol competition gathers hundreds of people to the outdoor stage at the Quarry Tap Room on Water Street each summer.

Gagnon plans to attend the watch party on Sunday. She is from Cumberland but made the ride up to Hallowell every weekend for the competition — a journey that has now propelled her to an appearance on national TV.


“I think I made a lot of connections that I never would have made through them and I’m very appreciative and I’m really excited to be (at the watch party),” Gagnon told the Kennebec Journal this week.

Gagnon is not the only one who appreciates the Hallowell-based competition. Central Maine Idol became such a popular event that singers from as far as Old Orchard Beach and Bangor auditioned.

At the time of the finale last summer when Gagnon won the competition and took home $10,000, Root estimates around 500 people were in attendance. To win Central Maine Idol, Gagnon beat out around 100 other singers in the audition process and then stood out among the performers in the top 20.

“You would look around the audience and people were wide-eyed and some were even crying with some of the songs she sang,” Root said. “She is so unique and such an intense singer. She puts everything into the songs she sings and knows how to connect with the audience. There is a difference between that and picking up a microphone and signing well — she knows how to bring the crowd in.”

And Root estimates she will bring the crowd in on Sunday for the watch party; he’s expecting a crowd of around 100 people.


Julia Gagnon performs during the Season 3 finale of Central Maine Idol last summer at The Quarry Tap Room in Hallowell. Gagnon is set to appear on an episode of “American Idol” airing Sunday, and The Quarry Tap Room plans to  hold a viewing party to celebrate. Kennebec Journal file

In her audition that airs Sunday, Gagnon needs to earn the backing of at least two of the three “American Idol” judges — Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. If she does, she would move on to compete in Hollywood Week against roughly 150 other singers for a spot in the Top 24 live show.

Root got to know Gagnon from Central Maine Idol and said she is all deserving of the opportunity to try out for the live show.

“We connected when it was all over and I asked, ‘What do you think about auditioning for “American Idol?”‘ and Gagnon said, ‘Funny thing you say that, I just got an email from them — I sent in a video audition and they loved it and want me to audition live with one of the producers,'” Root said. “Then she went to Nashville to audition in front of the judges and now we wait to see if she gets her golden ticket to get on to the live show.”

If Gagnon earns a trip to Hollywood, Root said the viewing party would become a weekly occurrence on Sundays, similar to Central Maine Idol, which also took place on Sundays.

The upcoming summer marks the fourth season of Central Maine Idol. Root expects it to be bigger than ever, with a new stage now being built.

December’s flood took out the stage previously used for Central Maine Idol, but it gave Root and co-producer Chris Vallee the opportunity to build a larger one, this time with a catwalk and, possibly, some jumbotron screens around the stage for ample viewing.

Auditions for Central Maine Idol start in May and are in Hallowell, Bangor and Portland this year due to popularity.

“It’s a great thing we have here in Hallowell, Maine,” Root said.

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