Talent show full of veteran performers

Thursday, July 27, 2006

However, the change in date for Homecomers may have reduced the number of entries.

None of them was over the age of 20. Really, none of them was even old enough to be seniors in high school.

But for most of them the Jackson Homecomers talent show Wednesday night wasn't their first night on the contest stage. In a time when "American Idol" rules the TV, the talent show's 13-to-21 age division is packed with veterans who are barely old enough to drive.

For 15-year-old Cape Girardeau student Heath Daniel, this year's Homecomers wasn't his first talent show, but it was possibly the toughest.

Dressed in a costume tuxedo, he appeared on the stage twice. Once was in a duet with 13-year-old Mary Bauer of Cape Girardeau and once was as a solo act singing "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables."

"This one seems harder because there are all these distractions," Daniel said after his solo performance. The noise from the festival -- music on the rides, children yelling and hundreds of voices -- was one distraction. But another was worse -- his tux.

"It's outside and it's really humid," said Daniel, a line of sweat where his shaggy hair meets his forehead.

The warmth probably wasn't responsible for the smaller field of entries this year, though.

Only 12 contestants performed in the senior vocal division -- usually the biggest category in the contest. Last year, 75 contestants entered the competition in three categories.

Organizers Tina Weber and Linda Penzel think the change of date may have caused the low level of participation. Homecomers is usually held in August. This year it was moved to July due to public demand that the festival not interfere with the beginning of the school year.

Entries for the Homecomers queen contest were also down, Weber and Penzel said.

For Wednesday night's contestants the low numbers were a mixed blessing. There was less competition, but everyone in that night's contest can perform again in the Saturday night finals.

Less competition didn't necessarily translate into less talent, said 71-year-old Gene Kester. He and his wife went to their first Homecomers more than 50 years ago, around the time the talent contest began. Wednesday night they sat in the crowd and were entertained watching the talents of the young people.

"This is better than sitting at home and watching TV," Kester said.

Madison Rau, 13, of Cape Girardeau also enjoyed watching the other contestants before her name was called to stage near the end of the night.

With mom Debra Rau, sister Sierra and grandfather Fred Eggley the soon-to-be performer took in her first Homecomers. She looked out of place in the crowd, wearing a long black dress. Madison had only been in one talent show before in April, unlike the veterans around her.

In the end, the distractions didn't seem to bother Daniel much. He and Bauer won first place for their duo on "The Prayer."

And even though Rau wasn't one of the top four finalists, she now has a second talent competition under her belt.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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