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Deepwood Idol competition draws hundreds to Great Lakes Mall in Mentor

Don’t worry, “American Idol” fans.

Although the popular TV talent show will be soonsigning off for the last time after 15 seasons, a group of area performers will likely ensure that at least one Idol-esque performance will play out on the North Coast for years to come.

Meet the contestants of Deepwood Idol: An enthusiastic group of performers who work hard all year long to take part in the annual event hosted by the Great Lakes Mall.

Organizer Lynnmarie Landwei-Phillips said the program’s contestants — who each participate in at least one of the many programs offered at the Lake County Board of Developmental Disability’s Deepwood Center — take their roles in the event very seriously.

“Oh, yes, it’s very important to them and they look forward to it all year long,” said Landwei-Phillips, director of marketing at Deepwood. “There are some participants who start getting ready for the next year’s Idol on April 1 — picking out their songs and getting their costumes all together. Their families make signs to show their support, and everyone gets really involved and very excited about it.”

And it’s tough for the spectators themselves not to get drawn into the excitement.

Great Lakes Mall Marketing Director Kate Miller said this was her first time working with the Deepwood Idol event and it touched her emotionally.

“I have to admit, I was brought to tears a couple times, myself,” Miller said, adding that it was common throughout the day to see passersby just stop, watch and start getting into the performances.

“It’s incredible to me to just look around and see all these shoppers, who maybe didn’t even know this was going on here today, just stopping and checking out the performances,” she said.

It’s the kind of thing that highlights the common grounds a mall provides for a community.

“This is why we’re here,” Miller said. “This is why the mall is here: to host great events like this. It’s not just about shopping and eating. It’s about bringing the community together.”

She added that it’s mall management’s hope that events like Deepwood Idol might spark an interest in volunteering for some mall visitors, or possibly help raise awareness about programs for people with special needs.

PHOTOS: Deepwood Idol at Great Lakes Mall, April 2, 2016

For Landwei-Phillips, just seeing the looks on the contestants’ faces seems to be rewarding in itself.

“It’s an opportunity for us to show the community what abilities people with disabilities have. It’s always the event of the year for us,” she said as she patted outgoing contestants on the back and greeted other Deepwood program participants as they vacated the audience seating area.

“Everybody walks away with a big smile,” she said, her own big smile beaming. “It just means so much to them. They practice all year-round, and some of them are really upset when they’re not named the winner.”

She said post-contest tempers often flair, especially among disappointed contestants.

“Some people think that everyone should get a grand prize and everyone should be a winner but that’s not life,’ she said. “So I think this is a good experience for them. There may be sadness but they’ll do better tomorrow and there’s a great opportunity to learn right there.”

For their efforts, Landwei-Phillips said the contestants each get a “swag bag” full of goodies, a pair ofDowns Designs jeans, a limousine ride courtesy of Lim-O-Tec to their individualized hair and beauty consultations at Jenniffer & Company, followed by lunch courtesy of Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza.

This year’s host was Cougar 93.7 FM’s Jeremy James. Judges included News-Herald Executive Editor Tricia Ambrose, Wayne Brodnan from Visiting Angels and the Mentor Rotary, Lake County Treasurer Lorraine Fende, Great Lakes Mall public relations representative Diana Lewis, and Lake County Commissioners Judy Moran, Kevin Malacek and Dan Troy.

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