Whidbey’s talent showcased at new competition

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The success of the first island-wide Whidbey Has Talent competition already has organizers looking ahead to next year.

The competition, held April 24 at Oak Harbor High School’s Student Union Building, drew 52 participants in 28 acts, who competed in three different categories. Organizers say they couldn’t be more pleased with how the inaugural show went.

“I am thoroughly happy and pleased with how everything went,” said local entertainer and magician JR Russell, who created Whidbey Has Talent with his wife, Sarah. “The event was a huge success. We had no idea what the response and support would be like, given that this was the first event of its kind in the community.”

The show was broken up into three categories: Presentation level for children in kindergarten through fifth grade; junior level for those in grades six through eight; and senior level for high school students. Russell said each group had an audience of at least 200 friends and family and about 300 people attended presentation level.

“With all the family and friends there, every kid got thunderous applause,” said Russell. “When they were done and would come off the stage you could see the adrenalin was pumping and they were just euphoric. They were really into it and happy they did it.”

For some of the performers, it was the first time they had ever performed in front of an audience.
“Just to do it is daunting, so to be rewarded with such a big response was great for them to see,” Russell said. “You could almost feel that it was life-changing for some.”

The show, meant to highlight Whidbey Island’s young talent, also featured youth in the traditional “master of ceremonies” role, another thing that sets the competition apart, according to Russell.

“It added a different element to the show,” he said. “The emcees were every bit as nervous as the performers, but it made the whole event more watchable from beginning to end.”

While the show was open to youth from all over Whidbey Island, the contestants this year were from Oak Harbor and Coupeville. Organizers hope they will be able to draw youth from the south end for next year’s event, even though they have a big obstacle with which to contend.

“In a perfect world, we would love to include kids from the south end of the island. That was the dream, but there is the tyranny of distance that presents some unique challenges,” said Russell. “It doesn’t surprise me, but it doesn’t discourage me, either. We’re just starting the wave, we have to let it get momentum.”

Russell said the judges had their work cut out for them trying to decide upon winners, but in the end, first, second and third places were awarded in each division, along with a people’s choice award. Presentation level winners were: soloist Maggie Garret, first place; dancer Aubree Norton, second place; and the Terrific Trio of Grace Cecka, Alyssa Monger and Abigail Mene won third place and the People’s Choice award with their dance to “Dynamite.”

Cole Valdez and Christopher Robertson won first place in the Junior Level with their duet “Trouble;” second place went to Them Johnson Brothers; Kayla Raasina was the third place winner; and the People’s Choice award went to Holly Lewis and Audrey Moyes, who also performed a duet.

In the senior division, the dance group Legacy, made up of Paige Jackson, Anamae Herrera, Corbin Phipps and Darnell Dizon won first place; the band Last Sunday, featuring Taliah Black, Will Franz, Ray Paraiso and Suzanne Kaltenbach, took second place and won the People’s Choice award; and Shelby Montoya and Scout Powell won third place with their vocal performance.

All the winners performed last weekend at Oak Harbor’s Holland Happening celebration.

Russell said organizers learned a lot by putting on the first event, and had their fair share of small problems, none of which was visible to the audience. But he said the first event has definitely set the stage for another.
“The most successful aspect of the event was the fact that it met and exceeded our expectations and we have the momentum to move forward for the 2nd annual Whidbey Has Talent,” he said.

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