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'Idol' contestant sings for Haiti relief effort

By Sholnn Freeman
Thursday, February 4, 2010; LZ18

The area is abuzz with talk of Maddy Curtis, the 16-year-old "American Idol" contestant and Loudoun Valley High School junior who anchored two sold-out Haitian relief concerts Sunday night.

With photos of earthquake devastation behind her, Curtis performed songs popularized by Ray Charles, Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald. The Franklin Park Arts Center in Purcellville said the event raised $8,000 for Haiti relief. Proceeds will go to World Vision, a Christian charity that reports having raised $24 million for the relief effort.

Curtis prepared the "Maddy Sings for Haiti" concert in eight days, working with pianist Cuong Van, musical director of Loudoun Lyric Opera, who accompanied her on most of the songs.

"When I first heard about this terrible disaster, I felt there was a need for a benefit, and that I would use the gift God gave me," Curtis said.

At Sunday's concert, Curtis wore a black knee-length dress, black heels and makeup that her mother, Barbara Curtis, said she had to coax her to put on. At one point, Curtis stepped out of the shoes and performed in stocking feet.

Curtis has a long list of area theater credits, but last month's appearance during the first round of "American Idol" made her a local celebrity. After the appearance, she said, she had to make her Facebook page private after a flood of friend requests. After Sunday night's Haiti show, children and their parents lined up for photos, autographs and hugs.

Curtis said her success is the result of years of hard work. She started when she was very young, she said. At 3, she began greeting visitors at the door, asking to sing to them. By 5, she was getting major roles in stage musicals, including Gretl in "The Sound of Music."

She played Nancy, the female lead, in a high school production of "Oliver!" and she was Becky Thatcher in Aurora Studio Theater's "Treasures: the Musical Adventures of Tom Sawyer."

"She has stage presence and such a sweet clarity to her voice," said Meredith McMath, who produced "Treasures."

One night, an electrical problem nearly closed down the show, McMath said. Curtis led the other actors in an improvisation until the power came back. "She was stellar," said McMath, who attended the Sunday benefit. "She just acted like a professional actress. She was 14 at the time. We gave her an award for improvisation skills. She saved the show."

Last year, Curtis edged out professional opera performers to win a role in Loudoun Lyric Opera's production of "HMS Pinafore."

Sunday's concert allowed Curtis to showcase her voice in a simple setting. There were no diva moments, backup dancers or elaborate stage lights. She performed with just a spotlight and a microphone.

"I wasn't too nervous for this," she said. "I knew I was in the company of friends."

"American Idol" is scheduled to broadcast footage from its second round Feb. 9 and 10. Curtis is scheduled to sing during a cameo appearance at Loudoun Lyric Opera's "Romance: From Broadway to Lincoln Center" on Valentine's Day weekend.

Donations to World Vision's Haiti Quake Response can be made by calling 888-56-CHILD, going to http://www.worldvision.org or by texting "GIVE" to 20222 on cellphones.

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