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Shining through: Annual Happy Valley’s Got Talent allows all ages to strut their stuff

Riley Roth accompanied by Eric Farmer sings “More Than Just a Crush” as a featured performer during the 5th Annual Happy Valley’s Got Talent at the State Theatre on Saturday, March 28, 2015.
Riley Roth accompanied by Eric Farmer sings “More Than Just a Crush” as a featured performer during the 5th Annual Happy Valley’s Got Talent at the State Theatre on Saturday, March 28, 2015. CDT photo

Happy Valley’s Got Talent — and a large concentration of it was a gathered Saturday afternoon at the State Theatre.

A menagerie of talent visited the downtown theater for the fifth annual talent competition held by Tides, a nonprofit that provides grief counseling for children and teens who have experienced loss. Vocalists, violinists and a cappella singers hung out in the audience, in dressing rooms and, of course, on stage, all competing for that most elusive of prizes — a bag of candy.

This year’s Happy Valley’s Got Talent featured three categories of competition — Future Fame, Rising Stars and Prime Time. Demarcated by age, each category featured four performers of different disciplines and skills, leveraging their talents on behalf of the bereaved.

“I think the community has embraced this event like no other,” Suzanne Thompson, executive director of Tides, said.

The audience at the Saturday matinee played a direct role in choosing the afternoon’s victors. Children were instructed to clap the loudest for their favorite performers, casting deafening votes in each category while the talent chatted amiably backstage.

“It’s so cool to hear all the musicians and singers jamming out together,” vocalist Kenzie McCarter said.

Kenzie, a 13-year-old from Mifflin County, competed in the Future Fame category reserved for ages 12 to 15, performing “Something in the Water,” by Carrie Underwood. She enjoyed the camaraderie she experienced alongside her fellow musicians.

“I was involved last year and it was so much fun. I made such great friends I just had to come back,” Kenzie said.

After her performance she gathered backstage with the other Future Fame contestants. Nobody seemed to mind when Halle Mitchell, an eighth-grade student at Bellefonte Area Middle School, was applauded straight to the head of the pack.

“It feels good, I can’t wait to eat the chocolate,” Halle said.

For Rising Star competitor Julie Bouchard, a social studies middle school education major at Penn State, the competition was never about the prize. In fact, when Bouchard and her rendition of “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran won the honors in the ages 16 to 20 category, she couldn’t wait to take her candy-coated victory back to her friend.

“I look at everything as a learning experience,” said Bouchard.

The next category belonged to hula hoop enthusiast Branda Smeltzer, champion of the ages 21 and over Prime Time division. Smeltzer had to return to the State Theatre on Saturday evening along with the rest of the afternoon’s champions and competitors to defend her title in front of a brand new audience.

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