Friday night, four finalists will vie for the chance to be this year's "Recovery Idol" competition, a singing contest that puts a positive face on drug and alcohol recovery.
The competition is the brainchild of Derrick Ford, community liaison with Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services and himself a recovering addict.
"I just thought it was important that people in recovery do more than speak at meetings," said Ford. He started the competition, which initially sprang up as a way to provide musical accompaniment to a fashion show for people in recovery, four years ago. This year's finalists are Gina Albater, Ronald Davis, Jim Klasen, and Bill Presley.
Klasen, who sings and plays guitar, said he never expected to get time in the spotlight.
"For many years, this is something that I just did for myself. I was too shy to perform in front of people," he said. "So it's really been an opportunity for me to live out that fantasy in a healthy way."
Pushing ourselves outside of our normal habits can be life-changing, said Christa Scalies, a mental health advocate and founder of Giggle On, a laughter therapy. "If you're dealing with a very difficult life situation, in order for you to grow and get out of that situation, oftentimes you have to step outside of that comfort zone."
That's just what happened with last year's winner, Ford said. Winner Mark Dixon performed in front of 20,000 people during the 2013 Recovery Walk, the culminating event in the competition.
That opportunity led to more opportunities to perform. "He's interviewed for shows like 'The Voice,'" said Ford. "People are now asking him to perform, and he's been on a couple of radio shows."
Dixon has made other steps toward getting his life back on track. "He has found housing and he's got a job," said Ford.
Klasen said the events have helped him build a positive community for recovery.
"Probably what a lot of us would say about getting clean is, we didn't do that just to be miserable," Klasen said. "It's been good for me, on a recovery level, to associate with different people in recovery. It's been joyful."
Organizers expect more than 4,000 people to attend the sold out competition Friday. The top two singers will duke it out at the Recovery Walk Sept. 20 for an expected crowd of more than 20,000 people
The winner will perform with an all-star band and receive free studio time. The contest will be judged by local celebrities and figures in the recovery community, including Phil Allen of WURD and Wendy Williams of the city Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services.