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Waukesha native gains some national earplay

Tony Memmel takes fourth in VH1 music competition

June 16, 2014

Waukesha native Tony Memmel and his wife, Lesleigh, can say they've had their 15 minutes — make that, 15 seconds — of fame, thanks to competition for singer/songwriters by cable channel VH1.

To enter the competition, VH1 You Oughta Know, all they had to do was submit a 15-second clip on the video and photo sharing app Instagram. And there were a lot of other singers and songwriters also trying to achieve their dreams through the "make a band famous" competition.

"There were 2,700 submissions and (competition judges) selected 60 semifinalists," Tony Memmel explained. "Then there was then a Twitter-based voting round where fans cast ballots and our friends and fans really came out."

The couple achieved a satisfying level of success.

"We made it to the top 24 and we got a trip to New York City to compete in a tournament style event in Brooklyn," Memmel said. "We went out there this past week and we ended up finishing fourth."

Marathon-like event

The competition event ran 24 hours non-stop, subjecting songwriters to challenges and tasks — all in front of the cameras and some music industry professionals.

"(Lesleigh and I) had been up close to 40 hours by the time we made it to the top four," Memmel said. "We were really tested physically and mentally."

Memmel said one challenge involved writing a brand new song overnight and performing for industry professionals. Another involved playing on a Brooklyn street corner, vying for the attention and support of those walking by, in close proximity to their other competitors.

"We're acoustic, versus four-plus members working the crowd and gaining followers," Memmel noted. "We had been up along time and that was a tough challenge ... trying to stay sharp. And you're on camera all the time. That's stressful. It's a challenging competition."

But their adrenaline kept them going.

Musical notes

"We learned a little about ourselves in a way and what our strengths were and how we could play to those strength along the way," Memmel said. "Lesleigh and I learned a lot about teamwork and being in it and giving it our all."

While their was only one grand prize awarded, Memmel said the experience was a prize in and of itself.

"Basically the exposure was tremendous," Memmel said. "We gained several hundred new followers on social networks in just a few days."

Memmel also said he's hoping that one of the industry professionals they encountered may just take notice, but until then his schedule is still filling up.

This week, Memmel flies to Oregon to work with kids and perform at a children's hospital, and later this summer the couple will play a concert at Blue Bird Café in Nashville, where he and his wife now live.

How you know him

While the VH1 competition gave him broader exposure, Tony isn't an unfamiliar name locally.

Last year, the Waukesha Now featured Memmel when he released a music video for the Lucky Fin project. Memmel was born without a left forearm and with the help and support of his parents, taught himself to be independent enough to play guitar by duct-taping a pick to his left arm.

The Waukesha North grad studied music business at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and recorded his first album in college before going on his first tour in 2009.

In 2013, he won the Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMII) award winner for Singer/Songwriter of the year.

In March 2014, Memmel and his band performed with the Sheboygan Symphony orchestra and Sheboygan Symphony Chorus.

While the couple lives in Nashville, they haven't forgotten their roots.

"We still consider Waukesha and the Milwaukee area home," Memmel said. "We've been back several times. It definitely has a special place in my heart."

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