More than two dozen people in addiction recovery will show off their best vocals to a panel of judges in front of a live public audience Friday night competing to be crowned the city’s next recovery idol in the first round of Philadelphia’s singing competition open exclusively to contestants who are recovering from drug addiction.
Round one goes down in the Point Breeze section of South Philadelphia at the Grand Yesha Ballroom, 2308 Snyder Avenue, on Friday, April 19 from 6 to 8 p.m.
The spirited competition, now in its ninth year, is designed to uplift those in addiction recovery and provide a significant public platform for them to showcase their talent and feel good about themselves. “People in recovery are stigmatized and counted out by society because of their addiction so our goal with this competition is to humanize them, boost their self-esteem and provide hope and healing to anyone battling a drug problem,” said recovery idol founder Derrick Ford, a community liaison for the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences who has been in recovery for the past 28 years.
“This is about changing the way people view those in recovery and combatting the ‘once an addict always an addict’ stigma that so heavily persists. We want people to leave this competition with a different perspective on recovery after seeing our contestants perform.”
The four rounds of the competition move through different parts of the city once a month from April through July before judges select two finalists to duke it out for the win at the Dell Music Center in August. The winner selected at the Dell receives a cash prize and an opportunity to perform in front of 20,000 people at the addiction recovery walk at Penn’s Landing in September.
Judges consider vocal prowess, song selection, song articulation and stage performance when choosing which contestants to eliminate from each round and which to advance to the next one. Organizers conduct random sobriety check-ins with contestants at rehearsals as well as during every round of the competition. “We can tell if you’re a contestant who is actively using drugs,” Ford said. “You may think you’re covering up your drug use but addiction is a disease that will expose you. We take recovery extremely serious in this competition. Abstaining from drug use is one thing but recovery requires maintenance.”
Supportive audience members enthusiastically cheering contestants on from round to round include everyone from family, friends and neighbors to “the police officer who arrested a contestant for stealing to buy drugs to the probation officer who monitored their whereabouts to the judge who once sentenced them to incarceration to the rehab clinician who helped them get clean,” said Ford.
Mark Dixon won Philadelphia’s recovery idol in 2013 after someone he knew submitted his name on an entry form without telling him. After making it all the way to the finals Dixon captivated judges with his performance of Luther Vandross’ top five 1984 Billboard R&B hit “Superstar.” “I don’t think I would have maintained my sobriety if it weren’t for recovery idol,” said Dixon. “Participating in the competition gave me something to look forward to accomplishing each month. I had done a few stints in rehab but recovery idol was the biggest motivating factor for me to stay clean. It gave me my life back.”
Since winning the competition six years ago Dixon, who said he still attends every year, has earned a Bachelor’s degree from Drexel University and is currently a graduate student at PCOM. He also works as a therapeutic specialist for Resources for Human Development where he’s been employed for the past five years.
“This singing competition is having a real impact on people and is making a big difference in their lives,” said Ford. “There’s no denying the numbers of people succumbing to the opioid crisis but there are many Philadelphians overcoming their drug addiction with treatment and this is a fun and exciting way for us to shine a light on them, their talent and their recovery.”