It was a tough decision for judges when the Texaco Country Showdown rolled into the Bull Shed on Friday.
After a series of rousing performances by 11 competitors, all of whom brought cheering sections that filled the venue to capacity, 20-year-old singer Dillon Galanski of Bakersfield -- who goes by the stage name of Dillon James -- was named the winner.
"I felt like I had a good shot," said Galanski, still reeling on Monday from his win. "There were a lot of good people there. It was a real competition."
Among the talent pool was first runner-up Noah Claunch, who, like Galanski, walked away with a cash prize.
"The crowd was into it, big time," said Kris Winston, program director at 92.1 KIX Country, the radio station which hosted the local leg of the competition. "When Dillon won, the place erupted and I saw several of the contestants immediately congratulate him. Every performer got cheers, which was nice."
Competing against Galanski and Claunch were JD Hardy, Whitney Wattenbarger, Marc Madewell, Lauren Ashley, Jeff Schmidt, Rick McKay, Dan Talbot, Calboy Calvin and Highway Down.
Galanski will next head to the state finals at Knott's Berry Farm on Aug. 17.
The three judges scored the artists on a scale of 1 to 10 in the categories of overall talent; marketability in country music; vocal/instrumental ability; originality of performance; and stage presence/charisma.
"They said I had a great song, and I had a lot of marketability and stage presence," said Galanski of the judges' feedback following his performance of a Darius Rucker cover and an original ballad, "I'm a Changed Man."
"I was hanging out with a lot of family most of the night. I ate some food, then grabbed my guitar when they called my name to perform. I calmed down and did what I do."
Winston is hopeful the overwhelming response in Bakersfield will bring the national competition back to the city next year. Following the competition, Highway Down performed for the crowd and the celebrating continued to closing time.
"I feel very confident that we'll do it again, bigger and better," Winston said.
While Galanski hasn't been given any other details regarding the next phase of the competition, he said he's already started doing some prep work.
"I'm going to find some good songs, maybe write something new, and go out and have fun and hopefully do well again."