Utah artists make a name for the Beehive State


Utah: Known for fry sauce, the invention of the television, the 2002 Olympics and a plethora of reality-talent TV stars.

From left, James Dawson VIII, Amber Lynn Stoppel, Jenn Blosil and Bri Ray pose with a fan. All four Utah performers made it to Hollywood week on “American Idol’s” farewell season. (Jenn Blosil/Facebook)

Utah contestants have graced television sets since the early 2000s when talent search shows exploded onto network television. Utah singers, dancers and musicians say Utah is a breeding ground for talent.

In the farewell season of “American Idol”, currently airing Thursdays at 7 p.m., two Utahns made it to the top 24 contestants. Jenn Blosil and James Dawson VIII moved into the top 24, with Blosil making it to the top 14.

Blosil, who is from Orem, believes she would not have been the artist she is today were it not for Provo music venue Velour and the stage it provided for her.

“Velour changed my life,” Blosil said. She began her career playing at Velour open mic nights, and owner Corey Fox later invited her to play on Velour’s legendary stage. Blosil said she doesn’t believe she would have had similar experiences in music had she not grown up in Utah.

Jenn Blosil performs on American Idol. Blosil made it to the top 14. (Jenn Blosil/Facebook)

“I would definitely say Utah is filled with incredibly beautiful and incredibly well-rounded and talented individuals,” Blosil said. “As has been my experience … I feel the more I travel, the more aware I am of Utah’s splendor. Maybe I’m biased, oh well.”

Fellow Orem native Bri Ray was also given the golden ticket to “American Idol’s” final season when she auditioned in Denver. Ray’s Idol journey ended at the end of Hollywood week this season.

Ray believes growing up in Utah has definitely influenced the kind of music she writes.

“If I had grown up outside of Utah, I’m sure I still would have pursued music because it’s just so much of who I am,” Ray said. “I think my style of music may have been different just because of the different cultures that are found outside of Utah.”

However, Ray agrees with Blosil that Utah is filled with incredible talent.

“I cannot confirm nor deny whether or not talent TV shows come to Utah in search of undeniable talent,” Ray said. “However, Utah definitely wouldn’t be a bad place to start.”

Ray believes Utah has been underrated and overlooked in the industry for some reason but believes this is quickly changing.

Dawson, Ray and Blosil will go down in Utah history among other Idol hopefuls such as David Archuleta, Megan Joy, Carmen Rasmussen and many more.

Bri Ray performs on Hollywood Week of American Idol. (YouTube)

Musician McKay Stevens spent much of his music career in Provo before moving to Los Angeles where he currently resides making music. Stevens’ hand has been in many Utah artists’ music careers with his Northplatte record label, which he operates with fellow musician Joshua James. He toured the world opening for Lindsey Stirling and wrote a song, “Atmosphere,” which was later nominated for a Grammy. Stevens is opinionated on why he believes the music scene is so strong in Utah and especially Provo.

“I love the Utah music scene so much. It was my home for so long and helped me out in so many ways,” Stevens said. “Having one main venue (in Provo) where everyone plays gives a community a location to meet up and inspire each other … it really helps to have one main hub. This lets everyone get to know each other and collaborate in a bunch of different ways to create amazing art as well.”

Stevens believes many bands coming out of Provo that have made it big have helped inspire people to believe that they, too, could actually make a living out of creating art.

McKay Stevens (right) waits backstage at Velour with his band, The Federal Empire, for a show in Provo in January. (McKay Stevens/Facebook)

“The fact that there are two huge universities (in Provo) is one of the main reasons an arts community continually exists and thrives,” Stevens said. “(There are) always new musicians and always new fans.”

Musicians such as Joshua James, Lindsey Stirling, Alex Boye, Brandon Flowers, and groups Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons have all touched their roots for a time in Utah.

Carol Cherry, founder and head teacher at the Provo Piano Academy, believes there is such a high quality of musical ability in Utah because of the LDS parents and community.

“They seem to care a great deal about helping their children advance in the arts, sciences and sports,” Cherry said. “When I lived in Idaho many years ago, there were less than 10 piano teachers in the town. I moved to Provo and there are currently over 300 piano teachers here and an overabundance of students for everyone.”

But music is not the only talent widely acknowledged on TV series. Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” is particularly excited about Utah’s talent.

“We get some of our most brilliant dancers from Salt Lake City, that go from us onto ‘Dancing With the Stars,'” Nigel Lythgoe told Fox13 in an interview in 2014. “You turn out amazing ballroom dancers, really tremendous, that have got personality as well and can pick up steps.” Lythgoe is a producer of “American Idol,” executive producer of “So You Think You Can Dance” and a judge.

Brooklyn Fullmer and fellow Utahn Marcquet Hill audition for So You Think You Can Dance season 11. Both made it through to the top 16. (Brooklyn Fullmer/Facebook)

Brooklyn Fullmer, who is from Provo, was a contestant on the 11th season of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Fullmer said growing up in Utah influenced her passion to pursue dance as a professional career. Eliminated after reaching the top 16, Fullmer went on to tour with “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing With the Stars” and later starred in music videos, TV broadcasts and cameo appearances on TV shows.

“Utah is seriously the dance capitol,” Fullmer said. “We’ve had so many talented dancers come out of even just Provo, so having that influence in my life, along with watching some of my very best friends go far with dance, made me realize at a young age that I could too.”

Fullmer grew up dancing with fellow “So You Think You Can Dance” Utahns Lindsay Arnold, Jenna Johnson and Witney Carson, all of whom started building their dancing careers on “So You Think You Can Dance” and now star on “Dancing With the Stars.”

From left: Brooklyn Fullmer, Jenna Johnson, Lindsay Arnold, Brittany Cherry and Witney Carson pose for a picture backstage at Dancing With the Stars. All five girls have come from dance programs based in Utah County. (Brittany Cherry/Twitter)

“With almost every dance TV show out there, during their audition process, it is a must stop in Utah,” Fullmer said. “We’ve generated countless professional dancers and contestants to some of the biggest shows out there.”

With 11 Utah winners out of the 21 Mirror Ball champions on “Dancing with the Stars,” the show has highlighted and featured a wide variety of Utah dancers.

Timothy Threlfall is a BYU professor in the theatre and BFA acting programThrelfall said Utah has a disproportionate representation in the Music Dance Theatre program at BYU.

“I think it is due to the fact that musical theatre is so popular in LDS culture,” Threlfall said. “Most other BFA programs in musical theatre around the nation spend a huge amount of time recruiting students. We spend comparatively little time in recruitment. Talented Latter-day Saint students tend to know about the program and its national reputation, as well as its extraordinary affordability.”

Threlfall said there are also many strong high school training programs in the state of Utah that feed into the program here at BYU. Many alumni of the Music Dance Theatre program teach at the schools, so every year the incoming class gets stronger and more prepared for the rigorous training the BYU program offers.

Seniors from BYU’s BFA acting and BFA Music Dance Theatre program go to New York City each April to present audition material for casting directors, agents and producers. BYU alumni of the program have been featured in more than 40 Broadway productions and 59 different films and TV shows.

“America’s Got Talent”, “America’s Best Dance Crew”, “Live to Dance” and “The Voice” have also featured talent participants from Utah.

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