new popera star on the horizon Apr 1, 2008 2:30:51 GMT
Post by stevemacdonald on Apr 1, 2008 2:30:51 GMT
April 1, 2008
Hayley Westenra's Double Makes Her Big Move
Raytown songstress is taking the fast lane to success
By Lisa Mortgensohn
Ryan Lee Sethway
Ryan Lee Sethway is an aspiring singer from Raytown, Missouri, with a hauntingly beautiful voice and a uniquely frustrating problem: She's a dead ringer for New Zealand's Hayley Westenra, the reigning princess of that infectious classical-pop hybrid known as "crossover music" which has already given huge careers to Josh Groban, Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli.
An articulate and glamourous 22-year-old with an associate's degree in music, Sethway is determined to make her mark in the crossover world, even if that means cashing in on her remarkable resemblance to the singing Kiwi.
"It's not just that we look so much alike, we actually sound very similar, too," said Sethway while sipping on bubble tea after a well-received open-mike gig at Scooters in St. Louis last Saturday night. "I've been singing like this long before the world heard of Hayley, so why should I stop trying to sound like myself? That would be silly!"
She not kidding, either. Sethway's vocal style and tonal characteristics easily conjure up a leisurely sunset trek along Aukland's dreamy Piha Beach — uncannily like a certain you-know-who with a fat contract from Decca/Universal.
Sethway's initial offering at Scooter's was a radiant rendition of "Both Sides Now" which prompted a few besotted head-scratchers in the audience to check if she was really lip-synching to Ms. Westenra's "Odyssey" CD all along. She wasn't.
"They say I have a major dilemma, you know... should I try to make it big as a celebrity impersonator, or put myself out there on my own, which could take years," she admits.
She's often baffled by the unusual situation fate has put her in. "I don't resent the fact that Hayley got there first with this act, even though I'm a little older. She had what it takes and so do I. So why the heck can't these record companies discover me? I mean, I'm here, right under their noses. I could be as successful as Hayley if they would only take a chance."
Industry insiders have long held that individuals who look and sing like established stars should accept their plight and ply their trade on the secondary circuit. "Many impersonators do extremely well, let's face it, but many more do not," said EMG talent agent Susan Marx. "In the case of Ryan Lee, I would ask her to search for a different star to emulate. There's only one Hayley and that's all we really need."
Another scout, Saphire Entertainment's Tommy Beacham, cautions that while it's fun for lookalikes at first, true singers need to find out "who they really are" if they want to be happy in the business. "Hayley's a tough act to copy, even if you're one of the best," he said.
Unfazed by such dismissals, Sethway said she has a plan to make the world view her as the original, and thereby, she hopes, relegate Westenra to wannabe status. "I'm heading off to London next week to start a series of gigs on Hayley's own turf. I think I do much better versions of the same songs that made her famous. It's only a matter of time before [Westenra's fans] come to all my shows and elevate me to the level of superstar."
At the end of the Scooter's evening, Sethway cheerfully hawked her demo CD of nine "familiar" songs, popera tunes, she assured us, that are "better than anything we've heard before." She also said the songs were available for download on her website, and include the following:
1. Amazing Grace
2. Pokarekara Ana
3. River of Dreams
4. In Trutina
5. Love Changes Everything
6. Fly, Summer
7. One Fine Day
8. O Mio Babbino Caro
9. Let Me Lie
Ms. Westenra's management company, Bedlum Inc., issued a terse statement about her American doppelgänger: "We've seen this before, and it usually falls flat. No one is going to make a better Hayley than Hayley herself. If Ryan Lee Sethway wants to put Hayley in her place, we're not losing any sleep. Bring it on!"
Copyright © 2008 The Mercury News. All rights reserved.