Triad Idol hopeful is ‘really, really good’

by Brian Clarey

‘“You should have seen her.’”

This was Brad Marley talking, YES! Weekly marketing executive and office frat-boy type who recently was convinced to replace his screen saver with something more appropriate ‘— a woman wearing an outer layer of clothes, say.

And when Marley says something like ‘“You should have seen her,’” it generally means the object of the sentence is’… blessed’… with outstanding physical attributes.

This time it was different. Marley, always enthusiastic, had been moved by this woman in a different way than the others he sometimes recounts for those of us in the office who are interested in the telling of such tales.

He was ecstatic. Rapt.

He had just returned from a weekend gig judging the semi-final round of the Triad Idol singing competition, the local talent search based on the hit TV show. Marley is himself something of a singer-songwriter ‘—around the office his most popular tune is a lament about a woman who farted on him. As such I tend to question his judgment in musical matters. Yet he persisted in telling me about Rainee Perdue, the blind singer from Greensboro who so moved Marley and his fellow judges with her rendition of ‘“This Woman’s Work.’”

‘“It was incredible, man.’”

And now I’m sitting across the table from Rainee at Coffee at the Summit, my notebook and pen at rest, the ice melting in my drink. And frankly I don’t see it.

She’s a darling woman, with a thin smattering of freckles across her cheeks, a soft, lilting voice and hands as small as barn mice. And she’s definitely blind: her cane is curled up like a dead snake on the table within easy reach of her tiny hands and her sightless blue eyes give me no clue as to the soul inside this body.

‘“She was really, really good,’” Mitchel Sommers, executive director for Triad Idol, told me over the phone. ‘“She’s going on to the finals and it’s not because she’s some poor, blind girl.’”

Sitting here watching her, I’m not so sure.

I harvest all the basic information: she’s 32, married and has lived in Greensboro for the past six months, when she and her husband Ryan moved from Portland, Ore. to be closer to family. Her blindness is the result of abnormal development of her optic nerve when she was still in the womb and she doesn’t waste any time bemoaning the absence of her sight.

‘“I’ve never had it,’” she shrugs. ‘“I was born blind.’”

The seeds of her music were planted in the church, she says.

‘“I was taught that God wouldn’t bless you if you mixed Christian and secular music,’” she says, now a bit amused at the notion.

‘“I’ve gotten to a point where I can sit there and meow about the lyrics or I can start, as a Christian or a person, to put things out there that aren’t cheesy, that don’t make you feel like you’re hitting your head against a slime bucket. I talk about my relationships’… God created our relationships; He created our feelings, so I’m doing a little of everything now.’”

She tells me the way she learned to read Braille and play piano but still has a ways to go on the guitar, about the two CDs she put out under the Blue Heron label in Portland, how she relies on SCAT to get around this huge city where she now lives. We’re getting along pretty good when someone shouts her name.

‘“Hey Rainee! You gonna sing for us today?’”

It’s Stan Montgomery, owner of the coffee joint, and with this invitation Rainee stands and I walk her over to the piano in the parlor of the wonderful old house.

She sits on the bench that faces the corner and fixes her impotent gaze on an imaginary place inside her head. Her tiny hands flitter over the keys.

‘“Have you heard her play yet?’” Stan asks me.

Not yet.

When she starts to sing I’m transfixed. Her voice is lush and rich, equally capable of smoky refrains and climactic peaks of range. The song is an original, ‘“We’ve Got It Made,’” part ballad part torch song, and a guy in the room flips his cell phone shut to watch.

She plays another. And another. The afternoon coffeehouse patrons listen and stare and clap their hands when she’s done. All conversation is, for the time being, suspended in the air along with the smell of roasted coffee beans and hot milk.

Triad Idol finals are Saturday, June 17 at the War Memorial Auditorium. Rainee Perdue will be one of the 36 finalists, culled from thousands of participants from the area. She has tiny hands and broken eyes and it takes her an hour to get across town. And she’s really, really good. If things work out for her she should be well on her way.

‘“I just want to sing more,’” she says. ‘“I want to do more than what I’ve been doing. I want to share what I’ve been given.’”

The man with the cell phone sidles up to me and speaks in a low tone.

‘“Who is she?’” he asks. ‘“I’ve been in here and I heard a lot of people play this piano. But that was really good.’”

He doesn’t wait around for my answer but approaches the woman on the bench and gives her shoulder a gentle touch.

‘“I’m Pastor Carlos Brown,’” he says. ‘“I wish you would come sing at my church.’”

They’re working out the details as I make my exit.