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Judge Wowed by Middle School Talent Show
Imagine if you could create your own dream talent show by choosing a la carte from concerts and performances you have personally seen over the years.
Mine, off the top of my head without looking through saved ticket stubs, would include: James Taylor and Paul McCartney each singing and playing guitar; solo vocals by Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, and Whitney Houston; band performances by The Who, The Pretenders, and Fleetwood Mac; comedy by George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld; a set by the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band; some Cirque du Soleil dancers; and a couple street performers – a young man in Dublin, Ireland, on the violin, and a teenage boy in a New York City subway drumming on large plastic buckets.
Now that would make for two hours of out-of-this-world entertainment!
The ticket price, of course, would also be out of this world.
Last week, and free of charge, I was treated to a talent show magical in its own right. It was my good fortune to be a judge for Santa Paula’s Isbell Middle School Talent Show.
Along with fellow judges Kay Wilson Bolton, Sheryl Meisenheimer and Alfonso Gamino, I was instructed to score the 19 acts in four categories: Presentation, Skill, Originality and Costume. Each category was worth five points.
Judging was more difficult than I anticipated. For example, it seemed wise to score the first few acts conservatively to allow wiggle room above – but how conservatively?
Hence, if Leo Reichling – who did a solo dance that was a mix of ballet, Justin Bieber steps, and street moves – had been the opening performance, I would have felt I could give him only 4.9s across my scorecard. You know, just in case an eighth-grade singing-and-dancing Beyonce came later.
However, by the time Leo took the stage midway through the show, I felt confident giving him a perfect 20. He was that terrific.
Which is not to say there weren’t other wonderful acts. From a guitar solo to piano solos; from an a cappella solo to vocalists with accompaniment; from a handful of group dance numbers to a comedy skit, the talent was entertaining from the opening act to the closing curtain.
It seems a cliché to say this, but just by taking the stage each contestant showed great talent. After all, displaying courage is a talent in itself.
Giving an oral report in front of one’s middle school peers can make the palms sweat; performing on a stage is tenfold more intimidating. Which is why one of the most memorable acts of the night in my eyes, and heart, was one that did not score well.
It was a pianist and bucket drummer. The duo began flawlessly, but slowly the piano grew softer while the drummer picked up the beat and volume. It was all very good and seemed a purposeful decision to fade out the piano and bring the street percussions front and center.
Suddenly, however, the pianist looked up from the ivory keys with his face registering terror. He had lost his place in the arrangement. If only he had faked it, I doubt the audience would have been any the wiser.
Instead, the pianist bolted off his bench and raced offstage, embarrassed. He need not have been. As Woody Allen has been credited with observing: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
The boy had bravely shown up. I hope the lesson he takes away is that the worst thing that could have happened on stage did, and yet it was not the end of the world.
To the contrary. His performing partner did not show the slightest anger. The audience did not laugh or jeer at the slip up. Rather, the Isbell Middle School students applauded the effort.
Actually, I think that was my favorite part of the evening: the kids. Not just those who courageously stepped on stage, but also those who watched respectfully, rhythmically clapped along with singers and dancers, and applauded enthusiastically for every single performer.
Leo’s feet were fantastic, but all the kids were hands-down terrific.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …
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