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MailTribune.com
  • Talent on Display

    Hopefuls wait for a moment in the spotlight, and the chance to be selected for TV show
  • America's Got Talent, no doubt about it.
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  • America's Got Talent, no doubt about it.
    Producers from NBC's television show filmed about 200 auditions Saturday at Talent Middle School's two gyms, separating rare talent from wannabes in search of acts capable of grabbing viewer attention.
    Dreamers and schemers, young and old — mostly musical in their endeavors — stood in line, dealing with nerves, waiting their turn to take the floor in groups of 10.
    Unlike its more heralded cousin, American Idol, which encourages audience participation, only parents and guardians were allowed in audition areas, rendering painstaking sign preparations moot.
    Once in the gym, each performer stepped forward, gave their name and age, and were given 90 seconds to relate something interesting about themselves that might spark interest.
    "I picked one verse," said South Medford High School sophomore Christine Hunt, who sang "O Mio Babbino Caro" from the opera "Gianni Schicchi" by Giacomo Puccini. "I only missed two words before they cut me off."
    Unlike American Idol, which slaps a 28-year-old age limit on its contestants, the NBC series simply wants acts that will grab viewers' attention.
    "We accept talent of any age from anywhere in the country," said supervising producer Robert McLeod of Studio City, Calif. "It could be singers, dancers, circus performers, playing spoons or whatever."
    When the show's producers received an e-mailed photo of the Talent freeway exit, the wheels began turning. Break dancer Hairo Torres, who made the finals of last year's competition, is from just up the road in Grants Pass, so the concept of finding big-time talent in Talent began percolating a couple of months ago. With auditions scheduled for the Oregon Convention Center in Portland today and Monday, seven producers and staff members flew in Friday night and went to work in relatively confined quarters on Saturday.
    New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Orlando, Dallas, Atlanta, Portland and Los Angeles comprise the usual short list of stops for the talent scouts, where crew works set up at convention centers and lines of hopefuls string for city blocks waiting to audition.
    Every so often the line reached 100 feet beyond the cafeteria doors at Talent Middle School Saturday, but most of the performers waited inside.
    Among the hopefuls was Talent Mayor Don Steyskal, who sang "They Call The Wind Maria" from the Broadway musical "Paint Your Wagon."
    "It was a song I sang in high school choir," said the graduate of Malin High School.
    Guitars, short skirts, platform shoes and ties were in abundance, along with a stilted ballerina.
    Jordan Ely, a 2004 Grants Pass High School classmate of Torres, planned to go to Portland before hearing about the local audition. The Southern Oregon University information sciences major discovered his bent for singing opera while previously attending George Fox University. He was debating whether to sing "Pie Jesus" by Andrew Lloyd Webber or "Miserere" by Zucchero Fornaciari.
    "I don't want to ever wonder if I could have made it," Ely said. "Basically, this is a job interview. If you are not nervous, you haven't fully wrapped your mind around what is happening."
    While Ely had never sang a solo under pressure before, Frankie Hernandez, a native of Austin, Texas, has long performed in nightclubs and bars from Seattle to Humboldt County on the Northern California coast.
    "I've been trying to put together a national act for a while the slow way, building a following as you go," said Hernandez, who has lived in Ashland for the past five years and sells instruments at Cripple Creek Music. "America's Got Talent came to us as a national vehicle. I would think of it as a slap in the face of the universe not to take advantage."
    Hernandez got an immediate second-look from the show staff, catching him by surprise when he was asked to play a pop song after performing an original composition.
    Among the veteran musicians in line was Jeff Nicholson, best known locally for his work with the eclectic Spyke Zeplyn band, who was performing "Light of the Morning Star," a spiritual by Glenn Kaiser.
    "I'm a big fan of American Idol," said the 61-year-old Nicholson. "I watch it with the kids; the good, the bad and the ugly."
    McLeod has seen plenty of the latter, but keeps on keeping on.
    "There's no set number (of qualifiers)," McLeod said. "We're looking for acts that are engaging and make you focus completely."
    Those deemed worthy of advancement will be invited to record auditions with judges later this spring.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.
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