Nicky Martin represents Idyllwild at Voice of the Valley

Idyllwild Arts student Nicky Martin, one of 150 who auditioned for the Voice of the Valley talent competition, was one of eight finalists who performed on Saturday, June 9, at the Grand Finale of the three-month competitive process. The performance, intended as a fundraiser for the historic Hemet Theatre at 216 E. Florida Ave. in Hemet, was in question up to 24 hours before it took place. A last-minute rescheduling at Tahquitz High School Performing Arts Center on Hemet’s east side allowed the performance to take place.


Although Idyllwild’s Martin did not win or place in the top four, he was a charismatic and polished performer throughout the evening. “This was a huge learning experience for me,” said Martin. “Since pop music is what I want to go into, this was solid preparation that helped me understand myself as an artist a little more.”

This represented a huge commitment of time for the 17-year-old music student — a 12-hour-a-week rehearsal and performance schedule over the three-month period. “I’m happy I did it. I met some amazing people.” The other top 10 finalist, Idyllwild Arts student Alex Keller, withdrew prior to the Grand Finale for reasons of end of year workload at Idyllwild Arts including preparation for an important recital with jazz guitarist Lake Jiroudek.

Two other Idyllwild residents, Isabella Magonna and Rhonda Legate were among 30 semifinalists but did not make the cut for finalists.

Hemet resident Sheila Diggs, the oldest competitor at age 30, won the contest with her solid gospel and R&B infused performance. Runner-up Melanie Tierce, 17, of Murrieta wowed the audience with her musical theater experience and solid vocal chops. Both were audience favorites. The two other top four were Brianna McBride, 16, a Hemet High School sophomore and Beth Jimenez.

Voice of the Valley winner Sheila Diggs. Photo by Marshall Smith

A complicated imbroglio involving the Valley View Foundation’s head Sharon Deuber and her own board, as well as Deuber’s decision to strip the theater of sound and lighting equipment immediately prior to the finale, led to a last-minute change of the venue. The Valley View Foundation had been in escrow to purchase the historic theater. Voice of the Valley’s artistic director Alexander Yepremian had to move his production after inspections by Hemet’s fire, police and city planner determined the venue did not meet its current code for the purposes intended and that no fire insurance was in effect.


Yepremian, a Broadway and London West End veteran actor, who had been hired as the theater’s artistic director, had mounted the Voice of the Valley competition to raise funds to begin rehabbing the theater to turn it into an arts center similar to Riverside’s Fox Theatre. “I have the year’s shows planned out,” said Yepremian, “but we’ll have to see how the foundation’s efforts to remove Deuber play out.”

Yepremian’s experience as a producer and showman were on display as he smoothly emceed the production, moving quickly to provide hand microphones when performer’s radio mics failed or cover, with consummate ease, any production glitch. The level of talent on display, including strong production numbers, excellent choreography, gospel choirs and the eight gifted singer finalists working in groups and singly, was impressive — all the more impressive given all staging had been done for the Hemet Theatre and had to be transferred to the new venue with only one rehearsal.

The excellent result was testimony to the resourcefulness of the producers and performers involved and the old theatre adage, “The show must go on!”