Operatic contenders and their avid audience will be in the presence of greatness on April 17, when the acclaimed baritone Sherrill Milnes will oversee the grand finale of the ninth annual Opera Idol at The Merion, 1611 Chicago Ave. The event is the culmination of a vocal competition that has drawn aspiring opera singers from around the country. “This is a highly-anticipated yearly event which showcases some of the finest young talent in the country,” said Margaret Gergen, executive director of The Merion.

Opera Idol is the collaborative brainchild of Mr. Milnes and the non-profit organization VOICExperience, which he founded with his wife, soprano Maria Zouves, and management from The Merion, who nurtured the program.

The Merion has close ties with neighboring Northwestern University, and Ms. Gergen said the seed for the program was planted when students from the school’s vocal program performed in the ballroom at The Merion 10 years ago.

“The connection between the residents and students was electric. You could feel it. The students loved having an admiring and appreciative audience and the residents loved that the kids had so much energy and passion for their music. It was a magical evening,” said Ms. Gergen.

The next year, Milnes and Zouves asked if they could plan a repeat performance, but with the competitive format. After several years, Opera Idol really began to “take off,” said Ms. Gergen. “We now have some of the best aspiring opera stars from across the country applying.”

A panel of professional judges, along with the audience, determine the outcome in each of the preliminary rounds. “The judges not only help with the ranking, but also provide comments and feedback to the contestants. The students feel supported and encouraged whether they win or not,” said Ms. Gergen. In 2009 a junior competition was launched in order to encourage younger vocal students.

Mr. Milnes will conduct the final round of Opera Idol in a Master-Class format. The grand-prize winner that evening will earn a $3,000 scholarship and airfare to a workshop directed by Mr. Milnes in Savannah, Ga. The Merion recruits professional judges, coordinates the program, hosts the competitions, and sponsors the scholarships.

The April 17 finale of Opera Idol is expected to draw a capacity crowd of 200 to The Merion’s Crystal Ballroom. “The residents love it, and so do many people from throughout the community,” said Ms. Gergen.