August 7, 2015
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces Winners in the State Fair's New "Star Spangled Challenge"

TOP Governor Cuomo Announces Winners in the State...

12 Winners Will Sing the National Anthem at the Great New York State Fair

10 Year Old Girl from Ilion Earns 25,500 of More Than 420,000 Votes

WYSIWYG

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the 12 New Yorkers who have been selected to sing the National Anthem at the 2015 Great New York State Fair, as winners of the Fair’s first-ever “Star Spangled Challenge.” Kenzie Murphy of Ilion, age 10, submitted a video showing her performing the anthem at a baseball game, which earned 25,500 out of the more than 420,000 votes cast—the highest number of the month-long competition.

“The Great New York State Fair is first and foremost a display of the very best New York has to offer -- whether it be farming, food and beverage production, or in this case singing and performing," Governor Cuomo said. "I congratulate these talented New Yorkers and look forward to this year’s Fair – which is poised to be the best one yet.”

The 12 winners are: 

  • Kenzie Murphy of Ilion, with 25,515 votes
  • Amanda Golden of Horseheads, with 24,548 votes
  • Jim DeCastro of West Islip, with 17,032 votes
  • Cecilia Mitchell of Westdale, with 15,712 votes
  • Hannah and Ashley Williams of Cicero, with 15,710 votes
  • Denise Ritschel Craig of Baldwinsville, with 15,579 votes
  • Damien Fraser of Fort Drum, with 15,547 votes
  • Sarah Click of Rome, with 15,322 votes
  • Emalee Herrington of Central Square, with 15,284 votes
  • Rob Larrabee of Canton, with 15,023 votes
  • Bryan Straub, of Liverpool, with 14,820 votes
  • Vincent Sottile of Staten Island, with 14,294 votes

The 263 entries in this first-ever contest came from 35 counties across the state, from Buffalo to the North Country to Long Island.

The Fair will now contact the winners to set the dates of their performances. They will perform at 9:30 a.m. to open the Fair’s day, and again in the early afternoon at the Toyota Coliseum to kick off the afternoon’s equestrian competitions. Each winner will also receive four admission tickets, a parking pass, and a $40 voucher good for purchases at the Fair’s food stands.

“The Great New York State Fair specializes in unforgettable performances and I’m very pleased that our important daily ritual will also become wonderful memories for these performers, and the performers to come,” said Acting Fair Director Troy Waffner.

About The Winners

Kenzie Murphy of Ilion, age 10, has been singing and competing for about 2 years, according to her mother, Roxanne. She’s been singing the National Anthem at local ballgames and charitable events for the last year. “We may come from a small town but it has a huge support system,” said Roxanne Murphy. “They have all heard her sing and couldn’t wait to back her.” Said Kenzie, “The song means so much to so many people, so to sing it at the Fair would be awesome. People always tell me they like the way I sing it, so now I can sing it for a ton of people.”

Amanda Golden, 36, of Horseheads is the mother of two children who recently auditioned for NBC’s singing competition “The Voice.” She has sung the Star Spangled Banner for area minor league sports teams and at the Chemung County Fair. “I truly feel blessed and honored to a part of this contest,” she said. “It has also opened doors to many more opportunities to sing. To sing the one song to honor our country is the greatest blessing!”

Jim DeCastro, 53, of West Islip, said that he loves to sing and has been singing since the second grade. “I have actually never been to the New York State Fair before, and I’m just excited to go,” he said. “I feel that the competition has brought awareness about the fair to people who live in Long Island. Some of my friends and family have said they will be making the trip up with me to perform at the fair. It’s very thrilling and overwhelming.”

Cecilia Mitchell, 16, of Westdale, will be a junior at Camden High School this year. She was recently nominated for “Best Supporting Actress” at the Syracuse High School Theater Awards for her work in the school’s production of “Mary Poppins.” Her chorus teacher told her about the State Fair competition, according to Mitchell’s mother, Sunshine, who said that singing the National Anthem was a huge honor for Cecilia because “her father is a Marine and a close friend who she considers a brother is also a Marine. I’m just really proud of her.”

Hannah and Ashley Williams, ages 15 and 13, respectively, of Cicero, are students in the North Syracuse Central School District who both say music is their passion. Each has been in the select vocal jazz chorus, theater, and orchestra at school. Ashley is also a percussionist and is learning piano while teaching herself the guitar. They said that they are honored to be among the twelve performers. “Our dad is an army veteran who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and our stepfather is an army veteran who served in the Iraq war and is now serving our state as a New York State trooper, so we have a great deal of pride in our country and the freedom and opportunity it provides. We also love the New York State Fair, and attend many times every year. We are so honored and excited to have the opportunity to sing together as sisters. It will be such a wonderful memory for us and our families!”

Denise Ritschel Craig of Baldwinsville, 40, is a piano and voice teacher and a classically trained opera singer. She is a mother of four who said she entered the contest after a friend discovered it and urged her to do it. “I am happy to be able to do this because I have put my career on hold for my kids to be there for them,” she said.

Spec. Damien Fraser, an infantryman at Fort Drum, was born in Yonkers and moved to Florida as a child. He has sung “The Star Spangled Banner” at many military ceremonies, including for generals and high-ranking Pentagon officials, but entered the contest because he wanted to “broaden my horizon and have a big challenge – I love a challenge and I’m very competitive.” Fraser almost did not enter the competition because his unit was scheduled to be deployed overseas. When the deployment was cancelled, he submitted the video of himself singing at a military ceremony. “This is a complete honor. I’m not only representing myself, I am representing the United States military and armed forces. It makes me proud.” Fraser will perform on Armed Forces Day, Thursday, Sept. 3.

Sarah Click, 25, of Rome, sang the National Anthem at the post-race party at the recent Boilermaker Run in Utica and said that was the greatest experience of her life, after last December’s birth of her first child. She said it will be an honor to sing at the Fair. “This is huge!” she said.

Emalee Herrington, 12, of Central Square, has been singing at and winning vocal competitions since she was 8, according to her mother, Sarah. She has sung the anthem many times at venues such as Fulton and Brewerton Speedways, and at regional festivals. She donates her time to sing at charity events in the region and uses the proceeds from sales of her CDs to benefit local food pantries, animal programs, and other local charities. Said Sarah, “Emalee is humble and grateful for the opportunity to sing at the fair. She feels it's an absolute honor any time she can sing the Nation Anthem and this opportunity gives her the chance to reach the ears of folks who may have yet to hear her sing.”

Rob Larrabee, 40, of Canton, is a musician and a New York State Trooper who has worked at the Fair for the past six years as part of the State Police detail. He taught himself the guitar and now plays solo acoustic shows when his schedule allows it. He recently performed at the Bassmaster Elite fishing tournament in Waddington. “One of my favorite songs to sing is the National Anthem,” Larrabee said, adding that the first time he sang the song in public was at a St. Lawrence University football game when the CD with the anthem on it couldn’t be found. “It’s an honor to go to such a big event and represent the State Police while giving those who served here and abroad the honor they deserve.” Larrabee will perform on Friday, Aug. 28, which is Law Enforcement Day.

Bryan Straub, 17, of Liverpool, is active in musical theater at his high school, according to his mother, and sings in a barbershop quartet.

Vincent Sottile, 26, of Staten Island, is a Registered Nurse at the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs Hospital. He volunteers with the youth and musical ministries at his church and said he believes in leaving a positive mark wherever he goes. He played the anthem on his keyboard, and was the only winner among the top 12 to perform without a vocalist. “The national anthem is a powerful composition with so much truth and it causes one to remember the sacrifice our ancestors have made. This produces a desire in myself and I hope in others to continue creating a better future for future generations all while holding true to our founding fathers’ principles and the truth about God. So it would be an honor to play the national anthem,” Sottile said.

All of the contest entries can be seen here.

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