Maka Rouge was surfing, working on her passion.
Online research was part of the Syracuse native’s regime to become a better songwriter and performer.
On this day in mid-June, Mary Katherine Rusyniak — performance name Maka Rouge is a combination of real-life — came upon a site titled “The Song Is Born.”
“It was a New York City contest. It said auditions are closed. It said everybody has been picked. But I emailed them to say, sorry I missed my opportunity, in the future I’d like to be considered. And I included a song I wrote, ‘Peace in the City.’ ”
Thus began a story that began with skepticism that morphed to optimism. She hopes her tale ends next week with success.
Three days later, Maka Rouge got a reply. The contest organizers from Manhattan-based The Entertainment Group wanted to meet her. Could she come that Friday or Saturday for an audition? If she passed, a slot would be opened for this year’s “The Song Is Born.”
“I called my mom and asked her what she thought. The worst that can happen, we figured, we can go to the Carnegie Deli for lunch,” she said. “So I told them I would be there at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“They said to bring my guitar and be prepared to play two or three songs. I kept waiting for them to say how much money I’d have to bring,” she said.
That didn’t happen.
When she arrived at the big building at the corner of 59th Street and Madison Avenue, a guard called up and Ken Stevenson came down to the lobby. Her mom was waiting out in the car, parked in limo drivers’ zone, the only spot they could find.
Stevenson was well-dressed, in a suit and tie. He invited her to offices on the seventh floor. He told her that he was from Virginia Beach, Va., and asked her about her life and music.
“He was one of the nicest guys I ever met,” she said. “It was one of the most gorgeous offices I’ve ever seen.”
Mary Katherine Rusyniak told Stevenson about her life, how she moved from Syracuse to California, became a nurse, seriously took up skateboarding, injured her arm badly enough that she had to give that up.
He enjoyed how she combined music and nursing when she moved back home to Syracuse. Stephenson invited her and her mom to lunch, across the street, at the Ritz Carlton.
“I called my mom’s cell and said, park the car in a lot, we’re getting taken to lunch,” she said. “She said, the Carnegie Deli? I said, no better than that.”
On the elevator going down, Stephenson asked her, “What did you think of your audition?” She had a spot in the competition.
“He told me he had already heard my music. He wanted to know about me. ‘You came down on a Saturday from Syracuse. You got here 15 minutes early. You showed your dedication to your craft. That’s what I wanted to see.’ ”
At lunch, he explained how his company had connections with Capitol Records, and how he expects half the field of 60 contestants to come away with “some kind of contract.”
She still had her guitar at lunch. Stephenson asked her to pull it out and play, right there in the restaurant of the Ritz Carlton. She sang “Peace in the City,” which Syracuse keyboardist and producer Andy Rudy jokingly calls here “Billy Joel of all songs.”
“Everybody is clapping. And Ken is looking at me and is beaming,” she said.
At the end of the competition, three singer-songwriters will be chosen for a documentary.
The site carries photos and email addresses from 60 competitors, from 15 cities and four countries. She’s already traded tales and tips with some of them, great networking right away.
Maka Rouge’s first round is this Tuesday night, July 30, at Santos Party House in Manhattan. One song against one other competitor. You know what she’ll be singing. Her next round would be the following night. If she gets to that, she’ll perform “Glass of Wine.”
The third round would be two songs. Finalists will need six songs ready. Six finalists will win cash and other prizes.
Contestants will be judged on pitch, lyrics, melodic quality, stage mastery and emotion.
Maka Rouge figures she’s already a winner for the experience.
“You have to keep pushing,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of somebody telling you no. It’s a big lesson. Being a self-promoter is difficult for an artist. But I’m learning.”
Central New York music lovers can catch a Maka Rouge set at 6 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Sterling Stage Kampitheatre.