By LAURA SMITHGo Triad/Greensboro News & Record
After seeing High Point native Fantasia Barrino win “American Idol” in season three, Niccole “Nikki” Stephens was inspired to try out for the competition the following year in Cleveland, Ohio.
She did not make it.
“That was a struggle for me, that kind of pushed me back a little bit, and it did something to me mentally and emotionally,” said Stephens of High Point.
But now, with a new year and a new sense of confidence, things are different.
On May 31, Stephens walked away as the winner of Triad Idol in the 19 and older category. Sponsored by the Community Theatre of Greensboro, Triad Idol is the Triad’s own version of the hit television show. The finals took place at the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, where contestants showcase their vocal talent for three minutes each.
“It’s a great way for us to meet new people,” said Mitchel Sommers, executive director of the Community Theatre of Greensboro. “We have just met so many new talents.”
One of those talents was Stephens, 32, who sang “I Believe in You and Me” by Whitney Houston.
“She sings from her heart and from her gut,” Sommers said. “She has amazing vocal control and her range is incredible. Her voice is very, very focused, very emotional.”
Stephens, a mother of seven children (five of whom are stepchildren), a grandmother of three (with two on the way) and a dental assistant at DentalWorks in Winston-Salem, began singing for fun when she was 4 years old and she hasn’t stopped yet.
“I believe the reason why I am here today is because of what God has given me at an early age,” she said.
Stephens, who is married to Grosjean Stephens, a construction company owner and musician, moved to North Carolina six years ago and has since performed in three different competitions, all of which she won first place.
“From the age of 13 on up, I decided to continue singing,” she said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I love it. Music is my thing, all types of music —- not just gospel but jazz, R&B. I love it all .&ellipses; It inspires me a lot to do different things with my voice, to try different things.”
Stephens became involved in Triad Idol when her daughter, Faith Ealey, tried out. After some encouragement from her husband, Stephens ended up on the stage at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem for the first round of tryouts, singing the chorus to Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All.”
“I made it through, by the grace of God, I did. I was very nervous,” Stephens said.
Faith also moved forward to the next round but was eliminated after the semi-finals.
Practicing “I Believe in You and Me” helped Stephens regain her confidence.
“It kind of got in my soul,” she said. “I thought, ‘I gotta keep moving’ because I believe that if I continue, that I could be better. I could be a greater person than what I am now.”
And that is just what happened at Triad Idol when she took home the top honor in her category.
Stephens has no plan to stop now.
Her job as a dental assistant pays the bills, but she is hoping to make a career out of singing someday, she said.
“Different things I go through sometimes bring out the best in me when I sing,” she said. “When I sing, when I open my mouth, that’s a release for me.”
Stephens is in the process of having her album “Released,” mixed and mastered so she can distribute it to the public.
“It’s gospel with a twist,” she said of the album. “It talks about release, allowing myself to be free.”
Stephens also is planning to audition for “Sunday’s Best,” a gospel competition on the TV network BET. In addition, she performs jazz music at Gullah Gullah restaurant in High Point every Friday night.
“I really want to get my name out there,” she said. “I think it’s my time. I think it’s my season. I think it’s my time to release what God has given me to the earth, to the world. And I believe I have something that they need and I want to give it to them.”