Aspiring artists of every shape and size gathered at the Spire of Jamestown on Wednesday evening to sing, dance and showcase Chautauqua County's talented youth.
Auditions for the fourth annual Chautauqua's Got Talent competition, presented by Big Time Productions and The Post-Journal, have concluded. Those who made it past auditions will be notified on Tuesday.
According to Angelo Giuffre, event organizer for Big Time Productions, those who auditioned gave him much to look forward to this season.
Taylor Latour performs during Wednesday’s Chautauqua’s Got Talent auditions.
P-J photos by Dusten Rader
"I was extremely excited to see all the diverse talent that we got tonight," said Giuffre. "We got some new blood, quite a range in age and everyone really had an amazing gift to offer."
In addition to a large selection of vocalists and instrumentalists, some of the unique talents found at this year's audition included a hula-hooper and ballet dancers. Giuffre had also opened the opportunity to audition via online video submission. And, several submissions were made that he is in the process of reviewing.
"One of the only things I could have asked for would have been a juggler," said Giuffre. "Every year I ask for one, and I haven't got one yet. I also asked for comedians, and we got one, although he didn't do any comedy tonight at the audition. Plus, we had a third-grader who sang 'I Want You Back' by the Jackson 5. That was really cool, and I'm excited to see what else he can bring. I think it's going to be a really good year. And, with the surprises I have in store, it might be our best year yet."
There were also quite a few performers who returned from previous years of the competition including Ashley Paulus, Austin Anderson, Stephanie Benson, Leisha Kolstee, Halle Weston and Anna Paterniti.
"They were kids that I just didn't want to see go last year, and now they're back so I get to see them again," said Giuffre. "It's almost like we have a community of returners, they all know each other and root for each other. It's a neat vibe that's going on here, and I really like being a part of it."
Local performer and radio personality Matt Warren also made a return to the stage as master of ceremonies to introduce each auditionee to the live audience.
"I loved doing it last year," said Warren. "I love talking with the contests and hearing each of their individual stories, what they do and what their talent is - I've really grown into the role. People have commented, saying that I've done a nice job, that I have a friendly personality and that I'm good with the contestants. Everybody has given me such positive feedback that I wanted to come do it again."
Warren especially enjoys helping the audience get to know each contestant, which is important because it is the audience's votes that ultimately decide who continues to compete.
"Tonight was the only time that the judges had a say in who goes on and who doesn't," said Warren. "The audience, they have to come and support the people that they are behind in order to see them go on to the next round of the competition. So, we want to make that relationship and make those connections with the people so that they fill this house to vote for the people they want to continue on."
Judges for the evening were Ylsa Giuffre, CEO of Big Time Productions; Jamie Lee and Jillianne Dolce Higgs.
"I think that one of the biggest things that we all agree on about tonight is seeing the repeat contestants really blossoming out of the shells they were in last year," said Jamie Lee. "We really appreciate being able to feel like we may have helped with that a little bit."
"You could tell that they came into the competition last year as amateurs, and that they took our advice to develop their abilities and to build confidence," added Ylsa. "One of the tips we gave them was to sing to yourself in the mirror so you could see your expression. And, we could tell that they did that and that they came back this year to showcase that."
Higgs, who is a performer herself, said that it's a fun event to judge because it gives her a feeling of being able to help the contestants learn and grow. And, to be able to work with the many talented kids in the area.
"It's cool to be able to say, 'Ok, maybe that's not your strongest, maybe you should try this,' - then to see them do it is kind of amazing," said Higgs.
Auditionees who are selected will compete for at least $500 cash, a website and a promotional press kit. Past Chautauqua's Got Talent winners include Shannon Nixon, who now produces many local theatrical productions including "Shannon's Kids Series"; Julie Cotter, a Maple Grove High School choral teacher and voice instructor for Infinity Performing Arts who has since appeared in several Lucille Ball Little Theater productions; and Emma Wirsen, an 11-year-old who bested 19 other contestants in last year's competition and now has her own website at emmawirsen.com.
The first round of this year's competition is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 18, at the Spire Theater, 317 E. Third St. in Jamestown. Tickets to each night are $6 pre-sale or $8 at the door, and a pass for all five nights is available for $25. The tickets can be purchased at The Labyrinth Press Co., 12 E. Fourth St. in Jamestown.
For more information call 450-7357, visit spiretheater.org or search for "Chautauqua's Got Talent" on Facebook.