Seven years ago, Dan Lauzon had what he calls the best “accident” of his life. His friend asked him to sing at a showcase as legendary singer Frank Sinatra; the friend would portray Dean Martin, as a Rat Pack tribute.
He says he had no idea “who the heck” Sinatra was, but he sang anyway.
On June 14, that irony came full circle as the Canada native placed first in Hoboken’s annual Sinatra Idol singing competition. He bested 14 other competitors for the top spot in the contest, held at Frank Sinatra Park on the waterfront – of course.
Lauzon was one of three foreign-born competitors this year, which included entrants from Mexico and the U.K.
“It feels absolutely marvelous,” the retired Lauzon said, in his Canadian accent. He drove from up north to compete.
Lauzon may not have known who “Ol’ Blue Eyes” was back in 2011. But when he began researching Sinatra, he “blew me away. His words meant something.” Today, Lauzon regularly performs as a Sinatra tribute artist in Canada alongside the friend, who accompanied him to New Jersey. Debbie, his wife of 28 years, also came.
Second place in the competition went to Hoboken native Dylan Kaplan. He grew up listening to Sinatra’s “The Great American Songbook” compilation album with his dad.
Third place this year was a tie between Gloucester City, N.J. native Peter Cannella and upstate New York’s Joe Cracco.
“I feel like I had a blast and it was good to be here,” Cannella said of his placing. He normally doesn’t perform Sinatra songs, but did it this time for the fun. A middle school math teacher, Cracco says he regularly exposes his students to Sinatra’s classics.
Other competitors included a returning Humphrey Uddoh, from New York, and a debuting David Martinez.
Mayor Bhalla told one entrant, a lawyer, to keep his day job.
Martinez, 24, from Elmont, N.Y., grew up hearing Sinatra’s crooning. But it wasn’t until the day he saw his mother crying when hearing of Sinatra’s passing via radio, in 1998, that he decided that he wanted to sing like him.
“Sinatra’s voice echoed like my mother’s,” Martinez said. “He had a way of making music about your life.”
Frank Gamrus, who came from Indiana and sang “The Tender Trap,” explained Sinatra’s hold on him. “He’s the very first music I ever sang in my life,” Gamrus said. “Just the pure romance of the music. Everything has a love vibe to it.”
London’s Stanley Volk traveled from across the pond to take a shot at “The Sultan of Swoon.”
He began singing in several choirs. Since retiring from the garment industry, Volk began going solo, Sinatra style, and has performed twice in X-Factor UK.
The 2017 first place winner Jerry Pearce also returned, performing “The Best is Yet To Come.”
Scatching critiques from the mayor
This year’s judges included local restauranteur Joyce Flinn; music writer Jay Lustig, who founded NJArts.net; veteran film, stage, and TV actress Margo Singalese; and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla.
One unexpectedly harsh challenge for the contestants came from Bhalla. He gave several performers scathing critiques, even telling one he almost fell asleep during his performance.
The mayor also gave blunt advice to another entrant who is an attorney: Keep your day job.
Bhalla eventually give higher numbers to later entrants.
The contestants ended the night by belting out a rousing rendition of “New York, New York.”
Sponsors this year included Suez Water, the Blue Eyes Restaurant, NY Waterway Ferry, and Muller Insurance.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org