Mac Ayres sat on the piano bench in his dining room and rocked out a ukulele rendition of “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5, squeezing his eyes shut and rocking his whole body as he played and sang.
The 14-year-old Sea Cliff resident, above, has loved music for as long as he can remember, and last month he took a big step toward realizing his dream of a music career. Ayres submitted a video of himself singing Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” a cappella to the Quaker Chewy Superstar Search, and he's now one of five finalists.
The winner of the contest, co-sponsored by MTV Networks and run in collaboration with singer Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, will get $5,000 and a management contract with Jonas Group Llc, including the chance to record a song produced by Jonas and star in a music video.
Jonas chose the five finalists, but the winner will be decided based on votes cast at chewysuperstar.com. Voters can cast their ballots, once per day, through next Friday.
Competitors were given a choice of four songs: “Just the Way You Are"; another Bruno Mars song, “Nothing on You”; and a pair of songs recorded by female country acts: the JaneDear Girls’ “Wildflower” and Taylor Swift’s “Breath.”
With two of the songs more suited for female voices, and “Nothing on You” forcing Ayres to rap, which he doesn’t do, “Just the Way You Are” was the only choice, Ayres said. But the music the contest provided was too high for his voice, so Ayres said he decided to risk doing it a cappella.
“The advantage was I would have sounded silly if I had actually sang it in the key Bruno Mars sang it in,” he said. “The disadvantage is that the other four finalists did use an instrumental, so theirs might actually sound like an actual song.”
Ayres is serious about his craft and spends days in his room learning and recording new songs. Sometimes his work takes him into the early morning, he said. His mother, Merry, built him a producing “cube” in his room, made out of 2-by-4's and soundproof curtains, so his 3 a.m. jam sessions don’t wake everyone in the house.
Ayres won’t be upset if he doesn’t win, he said, because he's already happy that Jonas has seen his work and deemed him one of the best of thousands of contestants. Ayres is looking at a career in journalism, he said, "if the singing thing doesn’t work out,” but he’ll never leave music entirely.
“I have serenaded some girls, you know, in the past using my voice,” he said, laughing. “It helps.”