Local middle school and high school bands will get a chance to shine as the Ridgefield Playhouse\u2019s BandJam competition returns in 2021 on June 6. \u201cIt\u2019s a show for kids, run by kids and gets people who are interested in music and the arts to come and perform,\u201d said Allison Stockel, the Ridgefield Playhouse\u2019s executive director. \u201cIt\u2019s like American Idol, where they try out before judges and then we whittle it down to the top middle school and high school bands, and they do a full performance and get feedback from our judges.\u201d The high school finalists this year are Electric Jane, Freedom Rockets, Gremlin Daycare, Groove Haven and Hablo Pescobar. Middle school finalists are Fortuna, Skynet and Speed Limit. One winner for each will be announced. Noted rock guitarist Richie Scarlet, who has performed with a who\u2019s who of rock bands in his career, will play with BandJam finalists on the Playhouse stage before a live audience at 4 p.m. \u201cIt\u2019s a kick for the kids to perform with a guy who is in the biz,\u201d Stockel said. \u201cIt\u2019s a fun event, and the kids are happy to raise money for the Playhouse.\u201d Hosted by standup comedian Christine O\u2019Leary, the competitors \u2014 known as \u201cBandjammers\u201d \u2014 will play in front of a series of music experts who will determine who will be the winner. \u201cThe judges give great feedback, positive feedback that really helps these kids go forward with their musical journey,\u201d Stockel said. American Idol alum Kimberley Locke, who is local to the area, will return as one of the judges for the competition, having done it in 2019. \u201cI was blown away by the performances last time,\u201d she said. \u201cThe contestants in the competition are practicing regularly and value their 15 minutes on the stage like they are performing for their lives.\u201d Locke released a lullaby album on Mother\u2019s Day entitled \u201cYou\u2019re My Baby\u201d and will have a Christmas album out this winter. Considering she had to stand in front of Simon Cowell during her American Idol year, she knows a thing or two about the judging process. \u201cMy goal is to critique them to the level they are performing at,\u201d Locke said. \u201cThese kids are showmen and it is really something to see. I\u2019ll look at musicianship first and foremost, looking at the quality of the band. Song selection is really big also; even on American Idol, they drilled that into us so much. Also, I want to see that they are having fun. You just have to own it, you have to know this is where you want to be and where you belong.\u201d The other judges include i95FM\u2019s Ethan Carey; Wayne Forte, founder of Entourage Talent; and multi-platinum record producer Aaron Accetta. This year\u2019s winners will be looking to follow in the footsteps of 2019 winner Jimy Bishop, a Ridgefield High School freshman who performed with Freedom Rockets; in May, Bishop\u2019s \u201cTake It to the Streets\u201d shot onto New Music Weekly\u2019s Top 40 and Hot 100 charts. Another alum of the competition is Drew Cole, who was on The Voice. \u201cWe\u2019ve had others go on to be working musicians, and it\u2019s great to see some of these kids stay in the industry and make it their livelihood,\u201d Stockel said. Since BandJam started in 2009, the competition has provided local students an opportunity to participate in a professional music competition in front of celebrity judges and music industry insiders. \u201cThe feedback these young musicians receive is invaluable as they pursue their musical dreams,\u201d Stockel said. \u201cMore importantly, it has helped promote music education for kids. Musical training helps build confidence, improves students\u2019 school work, builds imagination (and) gives them a sense of achievement.\u201d What\u2019s amazing, she added, is the talent level of those who have competed through the years. \u201cWe didn\u2019t expect it to be that good,\u201d Stockel said. \u201cThese judges, year after year, are blown away at how tremendously talented these musicians are. And they are just teens, and in some cases, even pre-teens. But they are incredibly well-versed in music and songwriting. It\u2019s become a great collaboration between kids and adults and encouraging the next generation of musicians.\u201d There are also opportunities for students interested in music production, with middle schoolers and high schoolers working backstage and learning from the Playhouse staff. \u201cWe get a lot of people who come and just want to see some great music,\u201d Stockel said. \u201cTo see young kids be so excited about music and the arts is really heartwarming. You realize the effect that music has on them.\u201d For more information or to purchase tickets to the event, visit www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org. Keith Loria is a freelance writer.