By Arielle Dollinger
One day after school in September, wide-brown-eyed teenaged sisters Kelly and Kat Montenero recorded a video of themselves singing “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen” in front of the plate rack in their kitchen.
By October, they were on a plane to California with their father to do what their mother called “the whole Hollywood thing” – a commercial shoot that marked phase one of a contest win that would earn them national recognition during the broadcast of the American Music Awards on Sunday and starring roles in a Kohl’s commercial.
“We’re very close as sisters, and it’s just really great to be able to share the experience with somebody,” said Kelly, 16. “She actually is my best friend.”
The girls entered the Disney Frozen Sing Your Heart Out contest after Kelly noticed an ad on Facebook; the entry deadline was the following day.
“As a true skeptic, I was like, ‘OK, you’ll never hear about that again,’” said their mother, Kim Montenero. “And then they did… what a crazy ride.”
She and her husband keep replaying the win, she said. While she thinks that her daughters are “extremely talented,” and thought that they could have successful careers in music someday, she said, she did not expect it to happen now.
“We thought for sure that this was anybody’s game, and we’re just from some tiny little town,” said Kim. “We never expected to win, ever.”
Kim attributes the win to support and votes from people of the Harborfields community.
“I just always remember it being such a great small community,” said the mother, a 1986 Harborfields High School graduate. “I think that the culture that they’re breeding up there is just so great. Everyone is so supportive.”
The trip to film the commercial was “amazing,” Kat, 14, said. “It was a great experience for us as performers and just as people.”
The word “amazing” is one that the family has been using often lately, Kim said, because “we just don’t have any other adjectives.”
On Nov. 23, Kelly and Kat returned home from a theater rehearsal to watch the American Music Awards. They found out they had won the contest when their commercial started playing.
“We saw ourselves on TV and I had tears in my eyes,” said Kat.
Watching with them that night was their longtime voice teacher, Karen Van Houten.
“I said to my husband, ‘Now I can retire, my girls are national winners,’” Van Houten said. “I just feel complete.”
Van Houten has been working with the girls since they were 4 and 6 years old, she said. Kelly was the more serious of the two, she noted; Kat was a bit more precocious.
“They’re both perfectionists,” Van Houten said. “They’ve worked very hard for a very long time.”
The win represents “the positive side of social media,” Van Houten said – social media was the outlet through which she and the Montenero family reached out to prospective voters.
“The community has really come together in a big way to support them,” she said.
Currently, Van Houten is working with Kelly and Kat to prepare them for upcoming tree lighting performances. The girls are scheduled to perform at the Greenlawn Tree Lighting this year.