Grace Waters takes the win! OBX Got Talent winner announced at finale event

Published 1:02 pm Monday, April 8, 2024

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Grace Waters, 23, of Kill Devil Hills, was named the winner of the inaugural OBX Got Talent at the finale event held Saturday evening, March 30, 2024 at The Pioneer Theater in downtown Manteo.

Competition was fierce between the final three acts: 18-year-old homeschool senior Hope DeHart, brother-sister duo Josh and Molly Simpson of Virginia Beach, and Grace Waters.

All three finalists delivered well-prepared fantastic acts that highlighted their musical versatility and stage presence.

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Jonny Waters & Company opened the evening with three songs, entertaining the packed house with his energetic island-style beats.

The first contestant of the night was Hope, who surprised and delighted the crowd with a yodeling song – yes, that’s right – yodeling. Judge Caroline Owens recommended the song to Hope and in two-and-a-half weeks she learned how to yodel. Perfectly. Her lace-lined frilly blue dress, boots and hat completed the look, and she received enthusiastic applause from the audience. Hope had lessons with Cathy Kreplin from Ascension Music Academy, who she began working with in March and who taught her to yodel, and worked with vocal coach Megan Jones for all three rounds with running her songs (not specific to yodeling). Check out video of Hope’s performance here:

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The judges had nothing but positive comments for Hope. Vusic marketing director Aaron Flahardy called her performance “phenomenal” and country music singer Caroline Owens said, in a rare moment, that she had “no critiques.” Cory Hemilright, founder of Bluegrass Island Music Festival, said Hope was right up there with bluegrass star (and yodeler) Brooke Aldridge.

Next up was Grace Waters with a jaw-dropping soulful rendition of Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Grace played the keyboard and ditched the guitar she’s played during rounds one and two, which seemed to solve many of her struggles with timing. Caroline Owens called it a gutsy song choice, and Cory Hemilright said it was her best performance so far. “You chose a song and made it your own,” he said. “Great job.” Check out video of Grace’s performance below:

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Josh and Molly Simpson were the last competitors onstage, singing “American Honey” by Lady A. Molly said the song reminded her of the sentimental elements of childhood. “A lot of things are beginning right now, but a lot of things are ending,” she said of her upcoming graduation from high school this spring. Check out video of their performance here:

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Both sang, but Molly’s clear voice shined. Judge Aaron Flahardy complimented the pair on their harmonizing and said the performance was “impressive.” Caroline Owens said Josh’s guitar work was great, though she preferred the siblings’ Lumineers-style performances better.

The evening switched gears, with all the contestants performing together with Jonny Waters for a performance of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Each took a turn singing solos throughout the song.

Next each performer played one more song, but this time it was a rehearsed number with Jonny Waters & Company, complete with his bass player, drummer, guitarist and backup vocalist. These performances gave the judges the opportunity to see how the contestants interacted with a full band.

Hope DeHart sang “God & Country” first, with emcee of the evening and Dixie 105.7’s Ray Turner saying that she came out of her shell. “Where did that come from?” he asked. Cory Hemilright agreed, saying that Hope looked like she was having fun on stage, but said that he thought she didn’t need the band – her acoustic performance was stronger alone.

In contrast, Grace Waters showed the crowed that she was made to sing with a full band. Jonny Waters – no relation to Grace – said he’d had fun jamming with Grace preparing for the show, stating that she’s “putting soul back on the map.”

Grace wowed the judges with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” – putting her whole self into the performance, dancing, interacting with Jonny Waters, and singing with grit and soul. She took risks with her performance vocally, but it worked and the crowed loved it.

“That was the best one I’ve seen you do. I just loved it,” said Caroline Owens. Though she still had some minor vocal critiques for Grace, Caroline said it was a “wonderful performance.”

Cory Hemilright, in his comments, started out by saying, “You need a band. It fits your high energy. You look natural doing what you’re doing up there.”

Last up, the Simpsons sang Vance Joy’s “Riptide” with a slightly country edge. Unlike their first performance, this second song equally highlighted both of their voices, with Josh taking the lead in guitar. Jonny Waters noted that Josh led the whole band with his guitar.

The crowd erupted in applause at the conclusion of the song. Aaron Flahardy especially commented on Josh’s talent: “Josh, you need to stick with this. You’re a star. I’ll put you on a big stage,” he promised.

The other two judges applauded the whole performance, with Caroline Owens saying, “I love what you did there.”

While the judges went to deliberate, Johnny Waters returned to the stage for a few songs, sharing the story of a song he wrote about his wife called “Natural Beauty” and also telling the crowed he got his start in songwriting.

No one was envious of the difficult job tasked to the judges of determining the winner. An incredible amount of improvement was clearly seen in all the contestants since their tryouts in January.

Finally, the results were in. All participants were lined up together onstage for the dramatic moment when the trophies were passed out. Third place was awarded to Hope DeHart; Josh and Molly Simpson took second; and Grace Waters was given the first-place award – a glass etched star – for the winner of the 2024 OBX Got Talent.

“I didn’t expect to win,” Grace told The Coastland Times. “But I wasn’t doing it to win. I did it just to put myself out there and be on stage. I’ve been singing for a long time but I’ve never had the confidence. Doing this has built my confidence. Maybe I’m better at this than I give myself credit for.”

Grace said she’s been singing since she’s been talking. “My family can tell you,” she added. “I’ve spent hours and hours in my room videotaping myself singing so I could perfect it.”

She led praise and worship at a large church for several years, but aside from that, she only began singing onstage last summer, joining Jeremy and the Generations at a concert at Nouvines.

Though nothing is set yet, Grace is tentatively scheduled to perform at the VUSIC summer concert series at Festival Park. She’s currently working with a band on some jazz songs plus some songs that she’s written.

Because for Grace, that is really the point.

“The music actually isn’t the dream. The dream is the message I have behind my music. The music is just a catalyst to get that out.”

The message she wants to share with the world is one of freedom and peace and love. She writes about coming together even in the darkest times. “People come from all walks of life and yet they sit down together and listen to music together,” she said.

Caroline Owens finished the evening with an encore performance, singing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” followed by the hymn “It is Well with My Soul,” and finishing with the old country classic “Walkin’ After Midnight.”

Though the winner of OBX Got Talent has been promised stage time with one of the local promoters, Pioneer Theater owner Michael Basnight said that all of the top three performers will have an opportunity this summer to perform before large crowds at Festival Park. “You’ll be here this summer. I promise you,” he said.

When asked if he will do an OBX Got Talent in 2025, Basnight replied simply, “How can we not?”