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Look out for these under-the-radar singers and musicians around Philly

Josh Middleton

The ninth season of Songbird—the local singing competition to find the best crooner in Philly—kicks off this week in a brand new location. It’s moving from its original home at Tabu Lounge and Sports Bar in the Gayborhood to Northern Liberties’ hip, membership-based watering hole and hangout Ruba Club. The new season starts September 20 at 9pm, and returns the same time every Wednesday until December 20.

This year’s contest is 14 weeks long, features 15 singers and will play out like all your favorite singing competitions on TV: contestants sing each week—usually to some kind of theme—face critiques by a panel of local judges and then get eliminated, one by one, until a winner is left standing. That winner gets $2,000.

In its nine years, Songbird has drawn 155 contestants to its stage, all looking for a platform to showcase their talents. In honor of its ninth year, we asked the show’s producer, Josh Schonewolf, to do the impossible: choose favorites. Here, he lays out 20 of the best Songbird contestants and, where applicable, where to find them crooning around the city. You never know, in a music town like Philly, any of these folks could turn out to be the next big thing.

1. Keely Sibilia

“Keely is my all-time favorite contestant. Not only was she beyond professional and easy to work with, but she was so creative and exciting to watch week after week. Her voice is out of control and her guitar skills really resonated with me during season four. She's served as a really constructive judge for four seasons—and will return to the panel for season nine.”

Heads up: She’s dropping a new EP this fall.

2. Larisa Bunch

"Larisa personifies what it means to be the best singer in Philly, because her vocal abilities are flawless. Not only did she out-sing everyone in her 22-contestant season, but she out-performed everyone, too. Not afraid of costumes, trying new styles of music, and exciting creative technique, Larisa is a powerhouse in the Songbird family.”

Heads up: Larisa's band, the Black Cherry, is performing at Kaminski's in October.

3. Leo Gonzales

“Leo arguably has the best report card of any Songbird contestant. He won more challenges than any contestant, with a whopping five wins, and was the clear frontrunner from day one. HIs creativity and ability to surprise the judges and audience every single week was how he won season six.”

4. Amanda Spivack

“Amanda's flawless track record during Season eight, her amazing finale performances and her powerhouse Broadway vocals have landed her at No. 4. Over the years, we've had a lot of Broadway-style artists, and none were able to take it all the way. Some were criticized for being unrelatable or stiff, and Amanda was praised for being the opposite. She has true star quality.”

Heads up: Catch her in Funny Girl at Wilmington’s Candlelight Theater through October 22.

5. Joey Gallagher

“I first saw Joey randomly singing on Facebook and was instantly obsessed with his voice. After losing Songbird season 3, he ended up winning All Stars (season seven). Joey's creativity is light years beyond anything I imagined possible for this competition.”

6. Jo Stones

“Jo Stones, our Kelly Clarkson, our inaugural winner! He entered the competition as a random stoner from South Jersey and left the Best Singer in Philly. Never ending up in the bottom the entire 14-week run, Jo exemplified what it is to win Songbird. He kept the judges on their toes, he never gave up, he always kept pushing himself and had the vocals to back it up.”

7. Eric Jaffe

“Ukulele artist Eric Jaffe was added to the season two cast during week three—as a surprise—and he really made a name for himself very quickly. Eric is arguably the most well-known of all the Songbirds, and has been our delightful host for the past three seasons.”

8. Tara Hendricks

“When I first heard this powerhouse diva sing, I was completely obsessed. I sent her live performances around to the judges, my friends and even my mother. She won four challenges during her season, and has judged two since then.”

Heads up: Catch Hendricks at the Merchantville Music Fest on October 7 and Charley B’s in Philly on October 13.

9. Julia Young

“Literally the most fun and sweetest contestant that's ever come through. This jazz singer was flawless in her season—never in the bottom—but also showed so much creativity that she was as shoe-in as season five winner.”

10. Jeremy Adam

“Jeremy is exactly what Songbird is all about. This relatable heartthrob showed that creativity gets you far in a contest with 22 other amazing singers. He landed as the runner-up in season three, but his band, Third Period French, has been all over the place after his run in Songbird.”

Heads up: Third Period French performs at Draught House Bar & Grill September 29, and on Boxcar Brewing Company’s Ride the Rails on October 28.

11. Kaleia Brown

“I met Kaleia at an LGBTQ pool party when she swam over to me to say, “I wanna do the next season of Songbird. I'll win.” This lady is captivating as hell—almost impossible to turn away from when the mic is in her hand.

12. Lisa Parks

“Lisa’s vocals are so fresh and perfect that not a soul in the audience would dare check their phone while she’s on stage. Her daughter was in season one, and after Ellie was eliminated, she said, ‘You should have my mom in this. She's amazing.’ And so I offered her a spot, and she made it all the way to third place in season two.”

13. Robert Alexander

“Robert showed up to for his Songbird promo photo shoot in the most colorful costume and the whitest teeth. He was ready to go. He is always so prepared, and knows exactly who he is as a performer. He knows his abilities, and he destroys the stage whenever he's on it.”

14. Lizzie Spellman

“Lizzie is so likeable that it hurts. She's a ray of sunshine, and her vocals are flawless. Her ability to do completely different week after week is so exciting. She was the runner-up in season five and also in season seven. This year, she’s landed herself at the judges' table.”

15. Brittany Marie

“Brittany is a bright light. She's blond, outspoken, has powerhouse vocals and isn't afraid to use them. She was finding her way, during season three, but during All Stars she was winning challenges and slayed week after week, coming in a strong fourth.”

16. Solomon

“Solomon's perfect vocals are enough to make your knees quiver. His artistry felt like a Grammy performance—way more elevated than a singing competition sting. Solomon's star quality and gorgeous range really helped him slide right through to the finale in season five.”

17. Chali

“During her season, this beaming ray of sunshine was full of exciting performances and memorable moments.”

18. Brianna Marie

“This gorgeous human is the pop star of Philadelphia. She looks like a pop singer, she sounds like one and she performs like a beast. It's pretty hard to not fall in love with Brianna, and hard to forget the first time you heard her belt.”

19. Lobstar Bisque

“Lobstar is a trained opera singer who was a stand out in season one. Week after week, she out-performed everyone, played with genres and shattered every note.”

20. Dan Callahan

“Dan is arguably the best male vocalist to ever come through this show. His jaw-dropping talent was enough to give you chills, and his performances kept you wanting more. He placed fifth in season two and second in season four.”

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