Clay County Fair/Folio’s Star Search 2022 Winners

Emery Williams – First Place, Junior Division

Williams stole the show with her electric performance during this year’s Star Search competition. At only 11 years old, she seems like a pro but in fact, this was only her second time participating in a talent competition. Her strong voice, pure tone and infectious energy are certainly what helped her to take home the top prize.

When did you begin singing? 

Age two, literally in my crib.

Who are you influenced by musically?

Definitely Katy Perry and Whitney Houston. They are two of my favorites.

What is your favorite part of performing?

I love the energy of the audience and love using the whole stage, which is kind of funny as I once suffered from extreme stage fright. I started working with a vocal coach, and she has helped me to overcome the fear and working with her has really increased my confidence.

What do you want people to know about you?

That I am kind and big hearted. I really enjoy helping others. I was bullied as a small kid at school, and after that experience, I feel it is really important to always be nice to others. I love school and plan to continue my education into college studying marine biology and language arts. I love being funny too. I’ve been told by many that I should consider being a comedian. You never know, I just may do that someday.

Any future plans we should know about?

I just started taking electric guitar lessons. I also have been singing with the band BLISTER which has really made me appreciate and love rock music more. I am currently working on my first cover single “Candles” by Cassadee Pope. I project completion by the fall. I am really excited about it.

Liv Southwick – Second Place, Junior Division

Liv surprised the audience and judges by putting on a show-stopping a cappella performance of “I’d Rather Be Blue Over You.” She picked the song, which became popular by way of the Broadway hit musical Funny Girl, due to her love for Barbra Streisand and roller skating.

Southwick is no stranger to musicals as she has been cast in 10 different shows over the last four years. But hitting the stage in the 2022 Star Search contest was a first for her, as it was her first time participating in a singing competition.

We asked her about any plans this summer to participate in community theater, musicals or talent competitions. She stated that she intends to work on her vocals all summer long while taking some time off from the theater scene. She will be enjoying family road trips, swimming, riding her bike and spending time with friends before she enters high school this fall.

We will not be surprised if we see her on Broadway someday. She is seemingly on the right path with her desire to become a top musical theater actress with her accomplishments thus far.

Lillian Michel – Third Place, Junior Division

Accompanying herself on ukulele, Michel lit up the stage with her beaming personality, booming voice and smooth tone.

Inspired by artists like Melanie Martinez and The Jackson 5, Michel started performing in singing competitions several years ago at the suggestion of her drama/choir director Evan Gould. “He has pushed me to go beyond my limits,” she said. He was onto something as she has placed in seven of the 10 talent shows and junior thespian competitions she has entered thus far.

Michel looks forward to the future as she is entering high school soon and that will open the door to many more opportunities to pursue when it comes to singing and theater. She plans to enjoy some fun this summer drawing, painting, skateboarding and playing Xbox with her friends. She will be performing in a play this summer at The Island Theatre in Fleming Island and is auditioning for other local musicals this fall. We think she has a real shot at accomplishing her dreams of being a singer, songwriter and maybe an actor if she keeps moving forward.

It’s obvious you’ve been performing for many years… when did you get started?

I started singing when I was a little girl in the car with my mom and at church. I really got going when I was in a wheelchair as a 13 year old. I suddenly couldn’t walk and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. My mom would wheel me up to the piano and I would sing. We would harmonize and sing like the Judds. Singing was one of the only things I could do at the time being completely immobilized. Eventually, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and [had] major brain surgery. The healing process was difficult, of course, but singing made it go smoother and kept my spirits up.

Are you OK now? 

Well, yes, I am but I still undergo scans on a regular basis to keep an eye on things, to make sure it doesn’t come back. It really changed my life. Facing your own mortality is really scary. It’s been a long journey recovering, and it’s really like a miracle that I am OK. I really believe that by the grace of God, I survived. I am blessed to have two children of my own now. I am blessed to be able to sing with them just like my mom and I did. We sing Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash together, oh, and, of course, gospel. The little things you are grateful for in life… your whole perspective changes after going through something like that. I try to always keep a positive outlook … It makes me feel good to be kind to people and help when I can. I really like to make people smile. That’s a gift in itself.

Your voice has a blues feel with some country flair. Who has influenced your sound?

My list of favorites is long but gospel as a format is my favorite, and artists like Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Karen Carpenter, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton top the list.

What’s next for you?

My main focus is raising my children right now. But I do plan to work on some more singles. I have six that I have completed so far. I will also enter some more contests, perform at some fairs and sing in church as often as possible this coming year. I hope that I am invited to perform at the Suwanee River Music Fest again. That was an amazing day. To be on the stage opening for some amazing artists/bands was such an incredible feeling. Billy Ray Cyrus was the headliner that night and the crowd’s energy was like no other. Those are feelings you just don’t get to have in life very often. I will definitely be pursuing opportunities like that as often as possible.

Dakota Higdon – Second Place, Adult Division

Colorful and calming, simply a good ol’ boy, Higdon is a true talent. Being the only contestant who performed an original song and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, this young man is someone who we may end up seeing on CMT or at the Grammy Awards someday.

Higdon spent 13 years playing baseball, including outfield and catcher at Lake-Sumter State College and UNF. Once baseball was over, he needed to dedicate his life to something else. He wasn’t quite sure what that would be. As fate would have it, his mom won a guitar in a raffle (signed by country artist Tracy Lawrence no less), which she gave to Higdon. He was instantly hooked, sitting in his room for hours, teaching himself to play until his fingers bled. It wasn’t long before he decided to try his hand at songwriting. Now 28, Higdon’s obsession has become a golden opportunity as he’s played over 150 gigs and counting.

He said the song he performed on the Star Search stage came naturally as he was homesick working on the road for several weeks at a time when he wrote it. “Putting the words together, having an understanding of what people go through in life,” he said. “That’s what country music is all about,” he said.

His original song called “Someday” is available on iTunes, and he is currently working on his first album called Legends and Liars. “The song which the album is named after is all about a trip I made to Nashville. Literally, when you are sitting on a bar stool, you are likely to be speaking to a legend on your left and possibly a liar on your right.” The album is expected to be out soon, and it will include eight original songs he has written. He has a story to tell and the album is his voice to share his story with the world.

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