Image: Recovery Idol hits the stage at the Dell

Recovery idol Derrick Ford.

Be honest, when you think of recovery, you often think of drug and alcohol addiction and the homelessness, negative behavioral changes and relapses.

But that’s not all there is to it. Nowhere is that more apparent then during the annual Recovery Idol talent and fashion show competition held each year at the Dell Music Center where contestants, all from the Recovery community, showcase their talents and skills before an audience of thousands.

For months, contestants competed for a place in the finals to participate in this year’s Idol at the Dell and several contestants were eliminated after each round until only three were left.

Those 3 will perform at the Dell Music Center this Friday.

“Recovery Idol was really conceptualized in 2011 when I  was putting someone in treatment and saw a young lady who unfortunately relapsed. I saw her in the street, and I remember thinking ‘what can I do to get her back in good spirits’,” said Derrick Ford, founder of Recovery Idol.

And then it hit him:

“We created a fashion show that was called ‘Fall into recovery’ and this is where Recovery Idol came into play, almost a spinoff of American Idol but only for people in recovery,” he said.

Those in recovery not only sometimes suffered devastating personal effects such as homelessness, incarceration, broken ties with family members and friends but they also lose their sense of self-worth, and Recovery Idol offers them an opportunity to not only discover their talents but to be a part of something that boosts their esteem and help them feel a part of something significant.

“We did a great job of reaching producers and stores to provide all of the attire for the fashion show. That’s where Recovery Idol was conceptualized and since then we have been blessed to have world-class musicians accompany the performers,” said Ford.

“It’s just a mind-blowing experience and it keeps getting bigger and better as the year’s progress.”

The Dell Music Center is a Philadelphia staple on whose stage appeared some of the greatest entertainers in the world and getting on that stage is no small feat. Asked how he was able to secure the venue, Ford said that including the historic venue was part of his original goals.

“When I came up with the idea of Recovery Idol, I put together a planning committee and the vision was that I wanted to make sure that we would be able to go into the Dell Music Center.”

“Folks were like, ‘Rick, that’s virtually impossible’ because the Dell Music was one of the premiere venues around the city of Philadelphia.”

Then he met with Susan Slawson, then Commissioner of Parks and Recreation and Facetta Garrison-Greene, Operations Manager of the Dell. 

“I told them exactly what the vision was, and we’ve been in the Dell since,” said Ford.

“We’ve been in every other venue around the city including the Freedom Theater, you name it we’ve been there,” he said but the Dell was the place he envisioned for this event, and he got it.

Each year the public responds enthusiastically.

“Not only are the people showing up but folks at the Dell are saying that your audiences here have been bigger than some of the [other] shows at the Dell. That speaks volumes about what Recovery does here in the city of Philadelphia. The crowds show up, it’s free to the public and wonderful staff at the Dell provides us with the same support mechanisms that they provide the top stars: make-up rooms, lighting, we are afforded some of the same stuff as some of the major stars receive when they walk the stage at the Dell.” 

This is direct evidence of how much the organizers at the Dell believe in the work of those servicing the needs of recovering addicts in the city of Philadelphia said Ford. 

“This has become the premiere event because folks around the nation are now watching what Recovery Idol has done for those who are homeless, seeking recovery and that’s why events like this is so desperately needed,” he said.

One of the judges for the contests leading up to the finals was Tomika McFadden who describes the experience as very emotional. “Watching people connect and have that camaraderie, having a place where they feel safe and then being able to show their talents without judgement. It’s an atmosphere that’s needed, welcomed and we need more of it,” said McFadden.

McFadden not only saw the contestants compete but noticed something else in the performers as well: “I could tell that the contestants, in their eyes, it was a life changing moment for them. Whether they won, or they didn’t, for them just being able to showcase something other than what recovery is known for, to display their talent, it separated them from I guess the stigma of what recovery has looked like in our communities,” she said.

Behind Recovery Idol is a team of dedicated supporters, participating organizations and volunteers organized by the host group Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences (PARR)

“It gives the contestants to show their talents which they have rediscovered during their recovery,” said Fred Way, PARR Director. “It has helped them on so many levels personally and professionally…Our goal is to make people better, self-sufficient and Recovery Idol actually does that.”

With 16 years in recovery, Deborah Young isj an active volunteer organizer for Recovery Idol, Young sees firsthand the positive role the Idol plays in the lives of those who participate.

“Derrick Ford puts a lot of his heart into this to give hope and healing to other people in recovery,” said Young. “A lot of people in recovery don’t feel accepted by a lot of people in society and this is a big part for a lot of them who feel that way and that’s really important to a lot of people in recovery.”

“I help out in any way that I can because I believe in it. It’s just such a beautiful thing. It’s beautiful to see people up there on stage competing against each other but becoming friends and family and the transformation is just amazing,” she said. 

The Recovery Idol Finale, talent competition, fashion show and awards presentation will be held this Friday, August 20th at the Dell Music Center located 2400 Strawberry Mansion Drive (33rd and Ridge Avenue).

The show begins at 6:00 pm and continues until 8:00pm. Doors will open at 5:00 pm and the event is FREE to the public. 

The show will also broadcast on Facebook live @Philly Recovery Idol.

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