When last we caught up with Maka Rouge, it was late July. The singer, songwriter and guitarist from Syracuse was preparing for her trip to Manhattan to take part in “The Song Is Born” competition.
A month later she’s back home, still working hard on her words and music. At 5 p.m. this Tuesday, Aug. 27, you can catch her touch of country at the WOLF radio stand at the New York State Fair.
And, wouldn’t you know it. Maka Rouge is again getting ready for a trip to Manhattan to compete in “The Song Is Born.” She will be performing a full set, head-to-head against one other survivor, in the semifinals at 9 p.m. Oct. 11. She’s bringing Andy Rudy along this time to play at her side.
Mary Katherine Rusnyiak — performance stamp Maka Rouge is a combination/alteration from her real name — is ready to roll, eye on the prizes promised by the music firm staging “The Song Is Born.” She’d particularly like to pitch some creative ideas for TV.
And, by the dictionary definition of the word, she’s yet to win a single round in the competition.
Strange story. Interesting competition. After all, this is the group that added the Syracuse performer to the ranks even though she’d missed the official auditions.
When Maka Rouge showed up for her first round, her voice was shot. In fact, a respiratory illness had robbed her of her most important instrument for almost a week leading up to that date. She’d consulted doctors. Took steroids. Gargled with cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar. Researched warm-up techniques.
“I went five days without singing,” she says.
So she entered Santos Party House, a Manhattan club looking a bit off-kilter in the bright lights of late afternoon, with doubt waging a big battle with hope.
Would anything come out when she opened her mouth?
But when all the contestants had arrived, organizers spread the word. No singing that night. Santos Party House would not allow anybody under a certain age to sing. There was a contestant too young.
So everybody was told to show up the next night to compete at the Ritz Carlton instead.
Everything happens for a reason, Maka Rouge thought.
The next day, her voice was back.
She had a decision to make. The night prior, she’d planned to sing the piece that’s becoming her trademark, “Peace in the City.” She was reserving “Glass of Wine” in case she advanced to round two.
She went with “Peace in the City.” It went well.
“I was at the top of my game,” she says. “I just wanted to focus.”
Her opponent was Jessica, a performer from California who had a set at the House of Blues on her resume.
“I killed it,” Rouge says.
They waited until all the one-song-each matches were done, when organizers would announce the winners.
The Syracuse performer squirmed as 13 names were called. She and Jessica still remained.
“We have a tie between Maka Rouge and Jessica,” said the stage announcer. The results had come from a tally of texts from fans, making a deadlock quite unlikely.
“Oh, God,” Rouge says.
The four judges were left to decide. They told Jessica they wished she had performed the song she sang during her audition. They told Maka Rouge that her hooks had people singing in the balcony.
And then they picked Jessica as the winner.
“I gave her a big hug,” Rouge says. “She’s saying, ‘No, way.’ I’m saying, ‘It’s OK.’ ”
Rouge made her rounds, thanking the judges and giving them each a copy of her CD. Might as well get in some last-minute promotion, she says.
She thanked the organizers for the opportunity.
“The assistant running the night, she says, ‘Maka Rouge, don’t you worry. You’re going to hear from us tomorrow,’ ” Rouge recalls.
And she did. It was an email that said, “Maka Rouge, you are going to the next round.”
“It’s a mystery,” she says. “Let it all happen as it’s supposed to.”