When singer-songwriter Michaela Paige performs Monday night at the Broward Center, the 17-year-old will treat Chrystal Hartigan's Songwriters Showcase the same way she did as a finalist on NBC's singing competition "The Voice": with nervousness and a little pretending. To be more specific, the dynamic pop-rocker will pretend that only a room of 300 people will be watching.
In reality, however, Paige's 12th-place winning performance on NBC was watched by millions, but admirers of original music will be no less discerning at the Abdo New River Room, where Hartigan's in-the-round-style showcase of local and regional singer-songwriters has held court since 2009.
"The actual [room] you see on TV has 300 people, and it doesn't hit you there's millions of people watching you at home," says the Boca Raton singer, a home-schooled student who's been busy in her post-"Voice" career reforming her soul-rock band, Soulful Flight. "On a local stage, it's almost the same number of people, except no Christina Aguilera and stuff. So I treat every performance like it's my last."
And artists do lay it out there at Hartigan's soul-bearing forum for aspiring rock stars, begun in 1996 with frequent Aerosmith and Bon Jovi songwriter Desmond Child in the lobby of Park Central Hotel in Miami Beach. Hartigan's monthly showcase, which moved to the Broward Center in 2009 after a long hiatus, has been responsible for boosting the careers of and featuring special guests in singer Keith Urban, Dreaming in Stereo frontman Fernando Perdomo, "American Idol" contestant Brett Loewenstern, one-time Aerosmith contributor Richie Supa, now of Plantation, and the Livesays frontman Billy Livesay.
"I'm always a nervous wreck when I play for Chrystal, because I’m naked out there next to the songwriters," says Livesay, speaking from his Pembroke Pines home. "Everyone's there specifically to hear you, in the round, under the microscope, which is always good for the younger artists' experience. But me? Terrified."
Besides Paige, Monday's showcase will have three teenage singer-songwriters perform first at 7:30 p.m. ("it's a school night," Hartigan says. The usual open-mike night will follow at 9 p.m., letting local musicians test their vocal chops onstage.
"It's a real pressure test for the open mikers in particular. It's a big venue," Hartigan says. "It's all about the songwriting. There are no covers at my show, and it's always amazing when they're up there on the stools, feeding off each other's creative energy. I feel privileged to have local songwriters expose their talents to the general public."
Chrystal Hartigan's Songwriter's Showcase will return 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan.14, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $10. Call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.