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Former 'Canadian Idol' judge Zack Werner moves to St. John’s to teach young singers


Travelling the country as a “Canadian Idol” judge, Zack Werner found there was something special about Newfoundland.

It was not just in terms of talent, but in the way art — and music in particular — is a given, embodied by practically everyone.

Eight years after the TV show ended, Werner hasn’t forgotten the depth of this province’s love of all things artistic, and is preparing to return to experience that magic up close once again, this time on a more permanent basis.

Warner is moving to St. John’s, where he’ll open his Idol School in November, teaching group singing classes to young singers who will understand him like no one else. It’s something he’s been doing in Toronto for the past five years — spending his evenings with singers between the ages of eight and 20, giving them the tools to develop their art and a career, if that’s where they want to go with it.

“When ‘Idol’ ended, I had a million ideas,” Werner says. “I did a large number of things for a couple of years but then I had this vision.

“I realized that I had watched thousands of people singing, and combine that with my background as a singer with the great mentors I had, I had the ability to teach people on a pop level or a rock level; an ability to give singers the tools that were important to be unique, to be an artist, to stand out, and to develop an art. I was thinking of maybe another TV show, but at some point I just decided to start teaching. There are worse things to do than to start giving back to young people and watching them grow and become who they’re going to become.”

Werner is an entertainment lawyer and president of Venus Records, whose own career as a musician saw him opening for Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains in the band Thick as Thieves, and more recently performing as part of country rock band Haymaker. Over the years he has worked with artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Black Eyed Peas and Finger 11. In addition to teaching, he’s been producing and writing music for film and TV.

Through “Canadian Idol,” he has worked with local singers like Rex Goudie and Craig Sharpe (who both made it as runners-up on the national show), Tara Oram, Jason Greeley, Jenny Gear and Mark Day.

With Idol School, Werner keeps his class sizes small and accompanies them on guitar as they work on a repertoire that could include anything from 1930s jazz to R&B tunes. He’s more about inspiring young talent to make music; less about worrying over technique.

“Why cram technique into these kids when really it should be about them learning ‘who am I and why does my voice matter’?” he says. “At that age, if you can make art about a personal thing, you can always add technique later. Not that we don’t do technique, but I just slide it in when they’re not looking.”

Werner’s students have been having lots of success. Some have cut albums, done tours, or won singing contests. Others have landed roles on shows like “Degrassi” and “American Gothic.”

On “Canadian Idol,” Werner was known as our version of Simon Cowell: the brutally honest, no-holds-barred judge on the panel. To his students these days, he’s known as Zacky. He’s a dad and a hockey coach and he doesn’t want people to be afraid or intimidated to work with him based on his TV persona.

“I don’t think anybody should be sitting back and going, ‘Oh, that the guy who was so mean on TV,’” he says. “I’m really inspired to work with young people and I’ve been doing it forever. Even if you tell them, ‘You can do better’ in a serious way, they turn around and go, ‘Oh Zacky.’ They get it right away, and there’s no fear.

“To be honest, kids deserve somebody who is in love with making music happen and the imagination and spirit that comes with that, as opposed to somebody who’s going, ‘We must learn this.’”

Werner says his classes will also be open to adults, and he’ll be putting together weekly songwriting groups. He’ll be available to consult with established artists and bands as well as producers on career planning, as well.

Starting at the beginning of November, Werner will hold all-ages open-mic events at Rocket Bakery on Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and will pick a winner each week to receive a class or consultation. He’s also looking to get some gigs himself, and maybe start up a little band.

“My voice shines when I’m helping someone else find their voice,” he says. “But I plan on playing every frickin’ night I can.”

For more information on Werner’s Idol School NL, e-mail him at idolschoolnl@gmail.com or visit Idol School NL on Facebook.

It was not just in terms of talent, but in the way art — and music in particular — is a given, embodied by practically everyone.

Eight years after the TV show ended, Werner hasn’t forgotten the depth of this province’s love of all things artistic, and is preparing to return to experience that magic up close once again, this time on a more permanent basis.

Warner is moving to St. John’s, where he’ll open his Idol School in November, teaching group singing classes to young singers who will understand him like no one else. It’s something he’s been doing in Toronto for the past five years — spending his evenings with singers between the ages of eight and 20, giving them the tools to develop their art and a career, if that’s where they want to go with it.

“When ‘Idol’ ended, I had a million ideas,” Werner says. “I did a large number of things for a couple of years but then I had this vision.

“I realized that I had watched thousands of people singing, and combine that with my background as a singer with the great mentors I had, I had the ability to teach people on a pop level or a rock level; an ability to give singers the tools that were important to be unique, to be an artist, to stand out, and to develop an art. I was thinking of maybe another TV show, but at some point I just decided to start teaching. There are worse things to do than to start giving back to young people and watching them grow and become who they’re going to become.”

Werner is an entertainment lawyer and president of Venus Records, whose own career as a musician saw him opening for Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains in the band Thick as Thieves, and more recently performing as part of country rock band Haymaker. Over the years he has worked with artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Black Eyed Peas and Finger 11. In addition to teaching, he’s been producing and writing music for film and TV.

Through “Canadian Idol,” he has worked with local singers like Rex Goudie and Craig Sharpe (who both made it as runners-up on the national show), Tara Oram, Jason Greeley, Jenny Gear and Mark Day.

With Idol School, Werner keeps his class sizes small and accompanies them on guitar as they work on a repertoire that could include anything from 1930s jazz to R&B tunes. He’s more about inspiring young talent to make music; less about worrying over technique.

“Why cram technique into these kids when really it should be about them learning ‘who am I and why does my voice matter’?” he says. “At that age, if you can make art about a personal thing, you can always add technique later. Not that we don’t do technique, but I just slide it in when they’re not looking.”

Werner’s students have been having lots of success. Some have cut albums, done tours, or won singing contests. Others have landed roles on shows like “Degrassi” and “American Gothic.”

On “Canadian Idol,” Werner was known as our version of Simon Cowell: the brutally honest, no-holds-barred judge on the panel. To his students these days, he’s known as Zacky. He’s a dad and a hockey coach and he doesn’t want people to be afraid or intimidated to work with him based on his TV persona.

“I don’t think anybody should be sitting back and going, ‘Oh, that the guy who was so mean on TV,’” he says. “I’m really inspired to work with young people and I’ve been doing it forever. Even if you tell them, ‘You can do better’ in a serious way, they turn around and go, ‘Oh Zacky.’ They get it right away, and there’s no fear.

“To be honest, kids deserve somebody who is in love with making music happen and the imagination and spirit that comes with that, as opposed to somebody who’s going, ‘We must learn this.’”

Werner says his classes will also be open to adults, and he’ll be putting together weekly songwriting groups. He’ll be available to consult with established artists and bands as well as producers on career planning, as well.

Starting at the beginning of November, Werner will hold all-ages open-mic events at Rocket Bakery on Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and will pick a winner each week to receive a class or consultation. He’s also looking to get some gigs himself, and maybe start up a little band.

“My voice shines when I’m helping someone else find their voice,” he says. “But I plan on playing every frickin’ night I can.”

For more information on Werner’s Idol School NL, e-mail him at idolschoolnl@gmail.com or visit Idol School NL on Facebook.

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