Golden pipes give Vero Beach man, 90, ticket to Senior Idol competition

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – A 90-year-old man with golden pipes will represent the county when he competes in the Senior Idol singing contest in Fort Lauderdale.

“This is the most excitement a 90-year-old should get!” Bernard Smetanka quipped while making his way up to the stage at the Indian River Mall. The crowd, which swelled to more than 100 people, cheered and shouted “Encore!”

Smetanka told the audience that when he left the Marine Corps in 1945, he was in Fort Lauderdale and watched the playhouse there be built.

“I never thought 75 years later I’d be on the stage,” Smetanka said.

The singer heeded the audience’s plea and led the crowd in singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.”

Twenty-two people auditioned at the Indian River Mall Wednesday during the annual Spring Senior Health Fair for a chance to compete in Senior Idol. Songs ranged from Broadway classics including a piece from “Phantom of the Opera” and “Fiddler on the Roof” to country-western selections, Frank Sinatra, and a more modern piece from Billy Joel.

“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” Sheriff Deryl Loar said of judging the contestants. “The talent is incredible.”

During a break for lunch, Loar said he recognized two front-runners, but didn’t give names.

The sheriff said he was honored to serve on the panel of judges, giving him something to break up the monotony of his week. He added it is his goal to continue reach out to non-profits and civic groups to improve relationships between them and law enforcement.

The others who served on the 3-judge panel were Russ Lemmon, columnist for The Press Journal, and Betsy Whisman, from Indian River Medical Center.

“It’s just the most fun,” Whisman said of judging, adding she was impressed with confidence the singers had shown.

“They’re all taking it so seriously,” she said.

Of the winner, Bernard Smetanka, Whisman said his rendition of “I Believe” was “just very moving.”

The judges and audience were so moved by his performance that they gave him a standing ovation.

The competition included residents from around Indian River County, including two from Sebastian and a handful from the barrier island.

Loyce Chiasson, a 10-year resident of Sebastian, decided not to use the microphone when she took to the stage, later explaining she was too nervous.

Turns out she didn’t need the microphone as her voice was strong and clear and cut through the mall’s ambient noise as she sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

“She yells at her husband the same way,” quipped M.C. Hamp Elliot, of Ocean 97.1 FM, drawing chuckles from the audience.

Also from Sebastian was Casmir “Cas” Fusco, who channeled Frank Sinatra while singing “The Lady is a Tramp.”

“I love karaoke,” Fusco told the judges prior to performing, adding that he doesn’t often pass up a chance to sing.

“It was a very smooth rendition,” Whisman said of his performance.

Off the stage, Fusco said he has sung his whole life and performed with several bands while living in New Jersery.

As for selecting Sinatra, “I’ve always admired his sound, his style,” Fusco said.

Recent newcomer to public singing was Tricia Allison, of Central Beach, who has taken to the stage at Kelly’s Irish Pub in town for the last four months trying to rid herself of stage fright.

Performing “I Only Want to be with You” from Shelby Lynne, she walked the stage, made eye contact with the audience and appeared to have overcome the fright.

Allison said Lynne’s rendition of the song is sexy and sultry – “I didn’t do it that way.”

She, instead, performed it “playful and sensual” and garnered cheers from the crowd once done.

Oyster Bay community resident Peter Perlick also took to the stage.

“I sure love it,” the 80-year-old said of living in Vero Beach.

He went on to sing “You Are My Sunshine,” which he calls his “prayer song.”

“I prefer a happy song,” Perlick said when asked why he chose that piece.

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