With a strong, smooth voice and seemingly effortless skill on the keyboard, Ben Cottrill is the 2014 Wellesley Idol.
After blowing away a packed crowd during the competition’s final round on Saturday at the Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival with renditions of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine,” the 16-year-old Elmira District Secondary School student received praise from judge Sara Martin.
“Technically, (you are) amazing. Your piano, the things that you can do with your voice and at the same time you just are. For me, that is the key. Just the fact that you are sharing with people who you are with your music is phenomenal.
She continued, “I think what (each judge) commented on is the fact that it just feels like you should be here, you should be playing the piano and singing,” she said. “The sense that I get of you, this sort of slightly quirky awesomeness comes across when you are singing and I love that; I love when people sing and they are genuinely honest with their audience.”
Ella Nafziger and Scott Carere rounded out a talented final three.
“We think the musicality for all three of you, the way that you interpret music and the way that you perform music is truly outstanding,” said judge Kalina Seifried. “Everyone keeps joking about how difficult it’s going to be to be for us (judges), and truly I have to say that the level of talent here has been kind of mind-blowing and totally not what I’m sure I or my fellow judges were expecting to run into at this competition.”
It was so tough to adjudicate that the judge’s panel decided to award a tie for second place, giving both Nafziger and Carere $300 prizes. Cottrill received the $500 top prize while Lindsay Slessor won the fan favourite award worth $125.
A gifted musician with natural stage presence and charisma, Cottrill started playing the piano at a young age with the help of his mother Brenda, who teaches the instrument.
But it wasn’t always easy.
“I hated it,” Cottrill said of piano lessons when he was about six years old. “I thought it was horrible and I faked practicing and I hardly practiced at all. My mom forced me through all of these lessons and levels.”
Things changed when he discovered music he enjoyed.
“I just kept going and one day I thought ‘I should just find my own thing,” and I listened to some Beatles and I mimicked “Let It Be” and some other Beatles’ songs, and after that I just started playing by ear.”
Other 1960s and ’70s artists like Billy Joel, Elton John and Bob Dylan fueled his passion, which could lead to a full-time career in the coming years.
“I definitely would like to pursue music as a full-time thing, but obviously it’s not the easiest thing to get into,” said Cottrill, who noted the progress of last year’s Wellesley Idol winner.
“I see how Amy Rola has done her whole thing, she’s got her CD going and I think that’s impressive. To actually just do it and make an album and play shows, it takes a lot of work.”
Currently, Cottrill is collaborating with Carare, playing high school shows and last month’s Autumnfest event for Community Care Concepts.
Be sure to look out for upcoming shows featuring this exciting duo in the near future.