Ellie Maxwell enters CNE Rising Star finals

Ellie Maxwell

TORONTO – Evansville’s favourite young vocalist Ellie Maxwell has entered the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE)’s Junior Rising Star competition for the second year in a row and needs votes from Islanders to help her clinch the viewer’s choice component of this year’s virtual competition.

“It’s really exciting for me to be a part of it. I do better with competitions so I like it and I’m interested to see what the results are, but it’s difficult to sing without an audience,” the 12-year-old singer told The Expositor.

Ellie has steadily gained prominence as a skillful singer both on- and off-Island in recent years, having performed at venues including festivals and celebrations, concerts and on the CTV Lions Children’s Christmas Telethon this past December.

Last year, she was named as one of the 12 finalists at the CNE competition and the organizers personally invited her to return for this summer’s virtual edition. Now, she needs the Island’s support through their votes as she faces down the 11 other competitors.

To see Ellie’s performance and vote for her, visit bit.ly/ellie-vote and leave a ‘like’ on the YouTube video. CNE has posted Ellie’s clip alongside the other entrants in the junior and youth divisions.

Ellie has selected ‘I Will Always Love You’ in the style of Whitney Houston (though Dolly Parton originally wrote and recorded the tune). 

“I’m excited because this is the first Whitney Houston song I’ve ever sung; she’s an idol for me. I really aspire to be like her,” she said.

Given the virtual format, Ellie had to pre-record the performance. She sent the same video into the Providence Bay Fair Manitoulin’s Got Talent competition, held this past weekend.

“It’s definitely going to be more competition this year (at the CNE), and more difficult for the judges to tell what a person will be like when they’re performing,” said Ellie. “You can do multiple takes to make yourself look perfect but you can’t change your voice at all, but it’s going to be very unlike a live performance when you have to handle that nervousness.”

Ellie’s older brother Robert shot the video on a phone; all submissions had to be one continuous take. She performed to a backing track in her family’s front yard.

CNE Rising Star alumni have gone on to great things—last year’s first runner-up, Roberta Battaglia of Brampton, has recently reached the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent.

This fall will offer interesting changes for Ellie in light of the pandemic—after five years of homeschooling, she is preparing to enter Grade 7 back at Charles C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay, returning to a very different school environment than when she left.

Ellie said she was excited to reconnect with her peers despite the changes and she has adjusted her routine to help balance her singing requirements with her assignments.

She will be continuing with some virtual education, however. Her former vocal coach took a break from teaching so Ellie began studying with Tara Simon Studios, a Georgia-based performing arts studio that has worked with many young stars.

Ellie has trained there for six months, since just before the pandemic, which allowed her to continue her lessons uninterrupted. She said the regular Skype sessions have grown her talents.

The pandemic has forced the cancellation of many performances, competitions and venues this year which Ellie has taken in stride, despite the disappointment shared with many in the arts scene.

“It’s been kind of good for me, personally, because I had a lot of time to build up my skills. It was sometimes a bit disappointing when so many things got cancelled but that gave me more time to cultivate my singing,” she said.

Ellie has been adding a number of songs into her oeuvre—Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero,’ Andrea Day’s ‘Rise Up’ and Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of ‘Summertime,’ as some examples.

For her mother, Mary Mendes de Franca, seeing Ellie performing at such high-profile events brings tremendous pride.

“She has taken the whole thing upon herself and is very disciplined to practice every day, doing everything her coach asks and trying to upload a new video to her YouTube channel (Ellie Maxwell) every week, so she’s learning a new song each week in addition to the ones with her coach. Her dad and I are very proud of her accomplishments,” said Ms. Mendes de Franca.

Ellie was very grateful of Islanders’ support in her past endeavours and said she appreciated their votes in the CNE competition.

“It’s been really great having so much support from everyone (on Manitoulin),” she said.