HOULTON — Three soloists and one group rose above the rest Saturday evening to earn the coveted “Golden Ticket” in the United Way of Aroostook’s Northern Star singing competition.

For the second straight year, three males were chosen as the top three to advance to the championship round as Wyatt Jenkins and Brandon Clark, both of Houlton, and Todd Corey of Mars Hill were selected to move on. Clark and Jenkins were the top vote getters with the audience, while the panel of judges chose Corey.

A new wrinkle in this year’s event was the addition of a “Group/Duo” category. Brenda Ellis and Darci St. Pierre of Houlton narrowly beat out the duo of Corey and Brandi Kidd of Mars Hill to earn the duo award. Both Corey and Kidd also performed as soloists. A mere three votes by the audience separated the two groups.

The second regional show will be held Saturday at 7 p.m. at Presque Isle Middle School and is open to residents of central Aroostook and Victoria County, New Brunswick. The final regional show takes place Friday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. at the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s Fox Auditorium. It is open to residents of the St. John Valley and Madawaska County, N.B.

Once all three regional competitions have taken place, a final “championship” round of Northern Star will be held Sunday, Feb. 27, at 2 p.m. at the Caribou Performing Arts Center.

Another new feature of the event this year saw all three judges hail from southern Aroostook, with one of the three chosen by the audience to move on to the championship round. Nancy Ketch, Jason Anderson and Margaret Hill served as judges, with Anderson chosen to move on to the championship.

“Our show tonight is beyond full,” Claudia Stevens, executive director for the UWA, said before the event. “We have 15 individuals and two groups competing. It’s a big surprise this year for Houlton because Houlton has traditionally been one of the tougher areas to get enough people to fill the show. We got the high school in-volved and that helped tremendously.”

For seven years, the United Way of Aroostook has held a singing contest that has showcased a wide array of talent by locals. Last year, Isabelle Pelletier of St. Jacques, New Brunswick, was crowned the first Northern Star. Prior to last year, the competition was known as “Aroostook Idol.”

Open to singers age 12 and up, Houlton’s regional event featured a wide array of talent. For some, appearing on the HHS stage was nothing new as they have been there several times before, either from past competitions or high school plays. For others, though, it was their first time on the stage and the jitters were prevalent.

Crooning and country were popular song choices for singers at the Houlton competition. Anderson, who is the choral director for SAD 29, gave constructive criticism to many of the singers, imploring them to “get edgier,” “own the stage,” and “kick up the intensity.”

Jenkins, who was a regional finalist last year as well, gave a rousing performance of “Geek in the Pink,” by Jason Mraz. Jenkins, a favorite with the audience, played acoustic guitar as he belted out the complex song, which earned mounds of praise from the judges.

“That was a really great job,” Anderson said. “I haven’t had a chance to hear you sing and play [guitar] at the same time and that was a great package.”

Clark, who competed several years ago as a youngster, performed the song “Mad World,” by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules from the film “Donnie Darko.” He earned praise from the judges for his song selection.

“What an interesting song choice,” Hill said. “It was a bit rockish, and yet soft and you did a very good job with it.”

“Your voice has certainly developed from the first year you performed,” added Ketch.

The duo of Brenda Ellis and Darcy St. Pierre gave a rollicking performance of “Turn it Loose,” by the Judds.

“You did a great job coming up with the look, but I expected a bit more harmony,” Hill said.

“You two have great stage command, but I agree, with a song by the Judds you need more harmony,” Anderson added.

Since the United Way of Aroostook launched the original “Aroostook Idol” fundraiser, it has drawn more than 150 competitors to the stage. It also has raised more than $150,000 to benefit agencies funded by the United Way in Aroostook County.

For more information on the “Northern Star” competition, contact the United Way of Aroostook at 207-764-5197.