This week kicks off the return of Philadelphia’s largest local singing competition, “Songbird.” The 14-week long live performance showdown features 20 of the city’s most hopeful vocal talents battling for the respected title and a $2,000 grand prize. 

“It’s really the only consistent singing competition this city has had in years and I seriously looked for talent all over Philly to represent,” said creator Josh Schonewolf.

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Schonewolf, who has been the executive producer of Songbird since its inception, wanted to launch an event that was solely based on “talent and unique personalities.”

“I received over 300 audition videos this season and decided to only select 10 brand new contestants — each with their own sound and identity that will really make this competition special compared to others,” Schonewolf said. “Given that we’ve been doing this for four years now, I felt that some other previous contestants deserved a shot again.”

For the first time, the competition is split between two teams — the “newbies” vs. the “all-stars.” Ten new contestants vs. 10 previous favorites from the past three seasons are coming back for another shot at the title. 

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“It’s a little intimidating at first, but I know that when I get on that stage — I’m fearless,” said newcomer Katie Haire. 

Haire, 27, whose stage name is “Gin,” initially dropped out after starting in the first season due to “being a first-time teacher.” 

“I didn’t realize how hectic my schedule was going to be once I signed on — now that I’m more accustomed to my work/personal life … I’m ready to get on stage and rock out,” Haire said.  

“At first, I didn’t want to come back because I felt as though I couldn’t take on the pressure,” Zach Deritis, 24, said of returning back as an all-star.

Known more commonly by the stage name “Zach Ryan,” Deritis was a crowd favorite in season three before being cut during the semi-finals round. Currently a Boxers PHL bartender/server, he now balances being a “part-time performer.”

“Songbird really opened doors for me,” Deritis said. “I’m constantly being booked for shows year-round and my family and friends are what really pushed me to give it another shot.”

The gatekeepers of whether or not anyone makes it further will be a panel of five local judges that come from various sectors of the entertainment industry. Unlike many other shows, the audience does not place a direct vote in the elimination of a contestant – only the judges. 

“The competition this season is more fierce than ever and I’m looking for the full bookable, saleable package,” said Danny Palmieri, group sales manager at the Kimmel Center and one of the new season four judges.

An acclaimed cabaret performer who is also performing during the papal visit this weekend, Palmieri, 31, knows “what it takes to succeed in the profession.”

“For me, it’s more than just the voice — you have to know how to convey a story and sense of performance through song. That’s what Songbird is about.”

Songbird is every Tuesday night at Tabu Bar (12th & Walnut) with doors opening at 8 pm.