SIOUX CITY | An unabashed fan of the blues rock band JJ Grey & the Mofro, Linda Clayton is hoping her brand of Midwest funk will earn her a $500 first place finish at what was originally billed as an All-City Teen Vocal Contest.

The competition is set for 4 p.m., May 13 at the Sioux City Conservatory of Music, 1307 Pierce St.

"I'd love to win it!" Clayton said with a smile. "That would be so much fun!"

However, Clayton isn't really a teenager. Instead, she's a 50-year-old South Sioux City woman who likes to sing karaoke when she isn't working as a receptionist for a dog grooming business.

"Yeah, we had to get rid of the age restriction as soon as Linda entered the competition," Gia Emory, the music conservatory's co-founder, explained. "That's OK because more competition (from people like Linda) raises everybody's game."

Presently, more than a dozen budding vocalists have agreed to compete in the singing contest that she compared to "American Idol" and "The Voice."

"Ideally, I'd love to have at least 20 participants," she said of the competition that will be judged by a three-person panel.

Indeed, Emory said the contest is open to everybody in Siouxland, not just Conservatory students.

"There's so much untapped talent out there," she said. "We want to be able to showcase it."

Vocal instructor Grace Claeys said winning a singing competition meant more than having a good voice.

"You need to also have good stage presence and be able to engage the audience," she suggested.

This is something that Ahriana Torres, 13, is beginning to appreciate.

"I like music that's calming," the Hinton Community School sixth grader said prior to her vocal lesson. "I don't know if I'm ready to compete this year."

Carter Allen, on the other hand, can't wait to take part in the vocal contest. At age 12, he's already the lead vocalist in his own rock band.

"Even though I like bands like The Lumineers," he said, "I prefer classic rock over any other type of music." 

Emory can't help but grin listening to budding young vocalists discuss music.

"Sioux City has plenty of 'Battle of the Band' contests," she said. "We wanted to have a competition that focuses entirely entirely on singing."

"After all, it takes more self-confidence to sing than it does to sit behind a drum set," Emory reasoned.

Linda Clayton agreed with Emory's sentiment.

"When I was a kid, my mom wanted me to take piano lessons and I did it from age 4 to age 18," she said. "I hated it because it was something mom expected from me."

As soon as she was able to do so, Clayton abandoned her music.

"I just stopped," she said. "That lasted for years."

But two things brought music back into Clayton's life.

"I discovered there was an online karaoke community and began making friends with people around the world," she said. "Plus, I started taking vocal lessons at the conservatory and having fun with music again.

For the singing competition, Clayton already knows what song she'll sing. But she doesn't want to make the selection public yet.

Clayton plans on coloring her hair a dark shade of blue. Her close-cropped 'do is currently pale green in tint.

Win or lose, she simply loves to sing.

"It's nice being able to share my favorite music with other people," Clayton said. "It's a great feeling."

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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