Arielle Pfefer, 16, sang “If I Can Dream,” an Elvis Presley tune, to win the 16th annual Teaneck Teen Idol contest on January 13. Arielle, who lives in Teaneck and is a junior at the Frisch School in Paramus, chose the song because “the lyrics really spoke to me.”
Arielle quoted the lyric “If I can dream of a better land/Where all my brothers walk hand in hand,” as particularly appropriate, “just considering the time in our world, all that we’re going through right now.
She has friends in family in Israel, and “they’re suffering so many tragedies there now. I wanted to sing ‘If I Can Dream’ and spread that to my community. We should all strive for peace and comfort and friendliness and warmth.”
Arielle also sang Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” Both performances impressed the judges; one of them compared Arielle to a young Barbra Streisand. The contest, held at Teaneck High School, is sponsored by the Teaneck Community Chorus.
“I’m excited to see what’s in store for Arielle,” said Jeremy Lentz of Teaneck, a Broadway producer who is also the executive director of the Teaneck International Film Festival. He has been a judge for Teaneck Teen Idol for seven years.
“Arielle is adding her name to the immensely talented and now world-famous vocalists who have come out of Teaneck,” Mr. Lentz said. Two previous contestants from Teaneck Teen Idol, Felicia Temple and Olivia Reyes, have gone on to compete on the televised singing competition “The Voice.”
As on “Dancing With the Stars,” the competition adds the average of the judges’ scores to the audience vote.
Arielle, whose family belongs to Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, felt honored to have participated. “I’m truly inspired by the judges and this opportunity,” she said.
The contest is open to teenagers who live in Teaneck or go to school in the township. This was its first year back after a three-year pandemic-necessitated break.
Seven finalists were selected during tryouts. Arielle’s six competitors all are students at Teaneck High School. The judges and the audience voted for the winners, which included two runners-up, Lula Najera, 15, and Azaria Best, 16.
In addition to a cash prize of $500, a giant trophy, and a date to sing with the community chorus, Arielle received a free professional recording session at Hobo Audio in Manhattan.
She has taken vocal and piano lessons since she was 10 and “works really hard and takes her music really passionately,” her mother, Daniella Pfefer, said. “She did a beautiful job, and it really showed emotionally. I was very proud of her.”
Arielle said she wants to go to college in Israel and is considering becoming a medic.
In Teaneck, she volunteers for Yachad, the Orthodox Union’s group for people with developmental and learning disabilities. “My peers and I will go on Monday nights for an hour and just hang out with the kids,” she said. “It’s a really fun time.”
For now, Ariella doesn’t expect to enter any more competitions. “I’m really not into competitions because I think that everyone’s talent is so unique,” she said. But she is open to the possibility of publishing original songs.
“I use my singing to inspire myself and those closest to me — not to be famous,” she said. Her next musical performance will be in March in “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Leonia Players Theatre.