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'Idol' finalist to join cast of 'Christmas Canteen'

This year's "Hometown Holidays - Christmas Canteen" at the Aurora Theatre will feature several new faces, but one of them might be familiar to the crowd.

Lawrenceville native Vanessa Olivarez, one of the 12 finalists from the second season of Fox's "American Idol," will be a part of this year's canteen cast. The show opens today and runs through Dec. 23, and Olivarez is scheduled to join the show Dec. 7.

"I've been wanting to do something with the Aurora for quite some time," said Olivarez, 24. "I'm definitely looking forward to it."

Olivarez began her passion for the arts in the theater, but she fell into the music scene when she started writing her own music at age 15. She decided to audition for "Idol" on a whim, and "I did OK," she said with a laugh.

Getting into the top 12 of the competition was an eye-opening experience, Olivarez said.

"I think it definitely helped me to get a better view of what the entertainment industry is about and learn the ins and outs of the industry," she said. "And it led me to a lot of wonderful, wonderful opportunities."

One of those opportunities was a year-long stint as Tracy Turnblad in the Toronto production of "Hairspray."

"I really love live theater," she said. "It's a wonderful adrenaline rush to be on stage in front of a group of people. ... It's nerve wracking, and it's amazing and it's beautiful. It gets cooler and cooler every time I do it."

In addition to preparing for her role at the Aurora, Olivarez is performing with her band, Butterfly Stitch, throughout the Atlanta area and the Southeast. During the canteen, she'll perform numbers including "Santa Baby" and "Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now."

This year's "Hometown Holidays" is a retrospective of highlights from past shows. It's also the last "Hometown Holidays" to be performed at the Duluth venue; the theater will move to historic downtown Lawrenceville in November 2006.

The sentimental show pays tribute to past and current members of the military and includes holiday favorites such as "Sleigh Ride," "Jingle Bell Rock," "White Christmas" and "Silent Night," plus an array of classic tunes. The canteen was created by producing artistic director Anthony P. Rodriguez and associate producer Ann-Carol Pence, and this year's cast includes Keith Adams, Kimberly Bates, Brandon O'Dell, Naima J. Carter, Benji Stockton and choreographer and Aurora's "Chicago" star Jen MacQueen.

n What: "Hometown Holidays - Christmas Canteen 2005"

•When: Today through Dec. 23. Show times are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

•Where: Aurora Theatre, 3087-B Main St. in Duluth

•Cost: Tickets for Wednesdays, Thursdays and matinees are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and $18 for students. Tickets for Fridays and Saturdays are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and $21 for students.

•Info: Call 770-476-7926 or visit www.auroratheatre.com.