New show encourages Whidbey Island kids to share their talent


Organizers of an island-wide talent show hope to unite communities across Whidbey Island behind one of its best assets – its children.

Talent posterAuditions for Whidbey Has Talent will be held March 5 and 6 at Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor. The competition, which will be held April 24 at the Student Union Building at Oak Harbor High School, is open to all Whidbey Island children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“It’s very simple,” said JR Russell, a local magician and entertainer. “It is an island-wide talent show to encourage, promote, celebrate and showcase the performing talents of our youth.”

Russell said he got the idea a couple of years ago when he and his wife, Sarah, saw the “Stars of Tomorrow” talent competition in Port Townsend. They brought the idea to members of the Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor, where it was embraced. The idea now is to get the rest of the island behind it.

“What’s nice about this is that it’s a community effort,” said Selene Muldowney, owner of Pink Martini Designs and Marketing and a co-producer and sponsor of the show. “All of us have gotten together and worked collaboratively as a community to build something for the community. So we’re encouraging the community to really embrace it.”

Whidbey Has Talent is being produced under the umbrella of the Whidbey Playhouse, which is donating $1,000 to be used as scholarship awards at the high school level. The group has also just received a $2,000 grant from Island Thrift to help with prizes and production expenses. The amount and type of other donations will determine exactly how prizes will be awarded.

As it stands now, there will be three divisions: Elementary will be kindergarten through grade five; grades six through eight will make up the middle school division and grades nine through 12 are the high school division.  No violent acts will be permitted, but other than that, pretty much anything goes.

Local magician and entertainer JR Russell shows off a card trick at a recent appearance

Local magician and entertainer JR Russell shows off a card trick at a recent appearance

“The only limitation we have is no fire acts. Singing, dancing, juggling, comedy. Magicians are allowed, but I’m frowning on that because I don’t want the competition,” Russell said with a wink.

There is no charge to compete and applications are available online at And because this is a talent competition for youth, that’s who will be running the show. Insight Virtual Academy senior Tatyana “Tater” Moore and Washington Virtual Academy sophomore Trianna Kobelin will be the co-hosts for the show.

“There’s no adults involved in this,” said Russell. “When the curtain opens up, it won’t be JR Russell being the emcee.”

Moore and Kobelin will be featured prominently in all the show promotions and videos on Facebook and the web site will encourage youth from all over the island to send in their applications.

“We want the youth to take this from start to finish,” Russell said. “Adults will do all the hard stuff, all the heavy-lifting stuff, to enable them to go ahead and have fun.”

Tatyana "Tater" Moore and Trianna Kobelin will be the hosts of Whidbey Has Talent.

Russell said organizers are working to include Miss Oak Harbor in the event somehow, and he hopes winners will be able to perform at Holland Happening and at the Oak Harbor Music Festival. Ultimately, he hopes Whidbey Has Talent will help bring both ends of the island together.

“We haven’t done anything to really merge the whole island,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be cool if the whole thing to galvanize the island under one thing happened to be the kids? This could be the vehicle to champion that.”

“This community is made up of all ages,” agreed Muldowney. “By having the participation of the kids gets the kids involved in community, and when you’re involved in your community, then you have a sense of ownership, and if you have a sense of ownership, then you’re going to want to improve the status of your community.”

Because kids will one day be decision-makers in the community, Muldowney said, participating in something like Whidbey Has Talent teaches important lessons for the future.

“It also teaches them the skills of being able to interact with other people,” she said. “Having a talent show isn’t just about performing. You have to have confidence, respect for others, you have to understand, articulate and follow rules, and then you have to be able to work with other people. It helps them understand that these things that happen in the community aren’t just magic, that people have to work toward creating a healthy, vibrant community.”

Applications are available online by clicking here, and they must be submitted by Feb. 26. There will be admission for the final talent show in April, said Russell, which will be used as seed money to start working on next year’s event.

“This is going to be fun,” he said.


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