Under the lights

The high-pressure stakes of local talent competition

BUTTERFLIES Optimistic performers, including the writer featured in maroon on the right, receive the results of the contest. Photo: Contributed

Ever wonder if you’re talented enough to win a major talent competition?

I have.

From the tender age of six years old, I was belting out such Broadway tunes as “Tomorrow” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in my bedroom.

And when I failed to convince my parents to take me to New York City to try out for Annie (apparently the drive was too long), my heart was set on getting noticed in a talent competitions.

However, in my youth, I was never brave enough to send in a video tape Star Search.

And once American Idol came around, I was too old to be an idol.

Now, 35 years after I first wanted to be Annie, I’ve honed my singing skills and curbed my performance anxiety by performing in local functions and musical theater.

And recently, I’ve caught myself wondering—Do I have “The Voice”? Do I “Got Talent”?

But, seriously—am I America’s most talented?

That’s pretty far-fetched.

But how about San Benito County’s?

I was willing to find out.

And so were 17 other acts when they all came out to audition for San Benito Stage Company (SBSC) Sidecar’s first ever talent show on January 19 and 20, a show that was produced by Amy Waran Redmond and Allison Barnes.

Acts that were deemed family-friendly, safety-conscious, and over the age of 6 years old, made it to the show’s line-up on Friday, Feb. 3.  They would compete for prizes of first place at $250, second place at $100, and third place at $50.

Though I hate auditioning, I left my audition on Jan. 19 with confidence. I was happy with my song choice (an acoustic version of Mariah Carey’s “Hero”) and thought I had a good chance at getting a prize.

As I walked into the Granada Theater for rehearsal, though, my confidence quickly faded.

I caught the fabulous performer, Winter Bond, who has been performed with SBSC in the past, walking in. She has a powerful voice and great confidence—which has always been my goal.

Then, the beautiful and talented Jula Prak walked into the theater with her guitar. She’s a well known singer and barista in Hollister—a triple-threat, actually—who played the title role in SBSC’s Mary Poppins in 2015 (while pregnant with her second child!).

And Ashley Maupin, at the young age of 13 years old, would be performing Frozen’s “Let it Go.” Her impressive pipes helped her land the coveted role of Annie in the SBSC production of the same name this last summer – a role that I wanted (I’m kidding. Kind of).

My intimidation went beyond the talented singers, though; the variety of talent was wide—ranging from singing, tap dancing, breakdancing, electric guitar solos and a Rubik’s Cube wiz.

Mark Matthews and Joseph Rosales brought down the house at auditions with their two-man band cover of KISS’s “Rock and Roll all Night;” Camaxtli Torres, 17, who has been dancing since the age of 6, did a Popping and Breakdancing number; and dance routines by younger contestants from Flying Colors Spectra Dance Team had been proven fabulous, as well as a ballet routine from adult dancers with the same dance studio.

My talent and musical ability stops with my vocal chords.

And even those aren’t very reliable anymore— a week before auditions, I learned I had adult-onset asthma.

Absolutely fabulous.

So on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 3, I drove to The Granada Theater in downtown Hollister with high hopes, but a realistic mind.

The show was hosted by Betsy Molchan and Steve Hodgkinson. The judges are locals not affiliated with SBSC, but well known in San Benito County as business owners or non-profit organizations: Rolan Resendiz, Joel Esqueda, Michelle Leonard, Bill Mifsud all sat in the judging chairs. Audience members acted as the fifth judge—they could scan a QR code on the show program, taking them to a 3-question survey and allowing them to vote for first, second and third place.

Acts were asked to wait in an empty Gavilan College classroom in the Briggs Building across the Briggs Alley, and were brought to the theater three acts before they were needed to come on.

Luckily, being the fourth act of the show allowed enough time beforehand to warm up my voice, while also allowing time after the show to get my knees to stop knocking together.

After warming up my voice with young friends, Kayla Ferry and Meghan Blevins, who sung and danced to High School Musical’s “Bop to the Top,” and Maupin—all 13 years old—I went off to the corner of the parking lot to sing to the dumpsters. I said a prayer that I’d hit those high notes with ease, remember the words, and not let my voice crack. I then walked into the theater after drinking one last sip of water.

The act right before me was Samantha Logan.

The Amazing Sam had baffled me with her talent of fixing three Rubik’s cubes in less than 3 minutes. I still haven’t finished the one I started 30 years ago!

I asked Sam the night before at rehearsal if she’d show me the trick to solving them.

I then quickly retracted my request.

“Wait, you’re probably just really smart, huh?” I said.

She just chuckled and tried to show me, with her young hands maneuvering the cube in such a way that my aging eyes just couldn’t keep up.

So right before going onstage, I watched Sam through the black curtain as she fixed the cubes. Anxiety began to form in me as Sam got close to the end of the song but still needed to finish her second cube. I grabbed the arms of the stage hands and prayed this prodigy would finish in time. I just couldn’t bear to her fail right in front of me.

And to everyone’s delight, Sam finished her routine in time, getting a roaring applause from the audience.

I let out a sigh of relief, and then the anxiety crept back.

My act was up.

I heard Steve start his introduction, “Next up is a 25-year veteran of the stage and a local journalist—Jenny Arbizu.”

I walked out under the the blue, dimmed lights, and he handed me the microphone.

And then I almost stopped, midstep.

Was I supposed to walk out before they dimmed to the blue lights, while they dimmed them, or after?

I almost let the logistics of the show break my courage. So I chose to forget about it, turned to the crowd, and found the masking-taped X that marked my standing spot.

I hate standing all alone on stage—I probably always will.

When I go out to karaoke, I hide behind the big screen with the lyrics.

When I do musical theater, I hide behind my character – or any person over 5 feet tall (I’m a mere 60 inches).

So here I stood—no character, no karaoke machine, no basketball player—and feeling completely vulnerable standing in front of 200 people. It’s like allowing 200 people to criticize my life-long dreams and skills.

Talent shows are not for the faint of heart. Yes, you need a lot of talent. But you also need a lot of humility to be in a talent show competition—which is a rare combination to come by.

So I began to sing, and to my surprise, the voice I heard coming from the speakers sounded pretty. I somehow remembered the words, but I could feel the sweat begin to form on my forehead as I got close to the highest notes. “Please don’t let my voice crack,” I prayed.

To my amazement, not only did I hit the high notes, but they came out with the force that I once had when belting out “Tomorrow”.

When the song was over, I quietly walked over to Betsy Molchan and handed her back the microphone. An applause ran through the audience, and I couldn’t help but do a side bow as I exited the stage.

I left the stage knowing I did my personal best.

And while walking back to the Briggs Building, I could hear a familiar tune being strummed on a guitar.

Jula Prak was sitting near the theater, quietly strumming and singing “Hero” as she smiled at me.

She said I sounded great. Little Ashley Maupin came by and gave me a high five.

“We could hear you singing back here in the alley,” Ashley said. I gave them all hugs.

Yes, these performers were my competitors—some have been my competitors while auditioning for shows—but the comradery at that moment felt genuine.

I walked over to my husband, who was doing security in the alley, and gave him a hug with a big sigh of relief.

Yes, it was over, and I did my personal best.

Contestants who were mere strangers an hour prior were now laughing, sharing life experiences, and truly meant good luck when they’d yell, “Break a leg!”

At least I’d like to think that was the case.

The rest of the night, I chatted with old friends and met new ones. I met Juan and Eleazar Pacheco, (13 and 11 years old respectively), and their cousin Miguel Rodriguez, 15. Their three-man band, Mi 45, in their sharp cowboy boots and hats, guitars hanging from their shoulders, played the spanish tune “Los Plebes Sierrenos”— their first big performance.

Miguel spoke of a gig they did at a Gilroy Halloween party, but “it was nothing like this with 200 people,” he said.

And the fun teenager, Camaxtli Torres, had break dancing skills that took me back to the ’80s. Torres was just happy to perform and wanted to “get the audience involved,” he said.

After the last act, we waited for the judges to place their votes, and then we were escorted into the theater, behind the black curtain. One preteen girl shouted from behind me, “Remember, whatever happens, we’re all winners!”

A happy last thought.

So we walked on stage, all in a line, and waited for the the judges to deliver their speeches.

I looked around the stage at all the talent, and thought, I had been foolish to think I could get a prize.

Steve Hodgkinson began reading the winners.

To be honest, I wasn’t surprised that Jula Prak’s name called, but I was surprised that I heard it called first. Prak, who sang and played guitar to “Not the Only One,” received third place.

I was shocked, but a bit of hope welled up in me.

Maybe I do have talent. Maybe I am a 40-something idol!

But then, 11-year-old Shane Wilbur was called as second place winner. Wilbur played some of my favorite classic rock tunes, like Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train, in his electric guitar montage.

Yeah, I’m not sure I’m more than a second place winner.

However—it did seem the judges were thinking out of the box! And I am waaay out of the box!

So hope welled up some more in my 5-foot frame.

Then the room got silent.

Before Steve Hodgkinson read the winner, I thought he was pulling a Ryan Seacrest—he prolonged the suspense it was as if we’d go to commercial break.

“And the winner is —  Jen…


(YES!  It’s ME!! JennyMarieMendollaArbizu…)


…na Hunt.”


And the hope that welled up inside me, popped.

Remember how I said that it takes a talent AND humility to be in these competitions?

This is why.

Jenna Hunt, at only 12 years old, sang her heart out to Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love,” and was given the $250 check.

We applauded Jenna, and the hosts thanked everyone for coming.

Participants gave congratulatory hugs to the winners. Afterward, people mingled to chat and take photos.

And me?

I had blown my hope-bubble up too much in the end.

And I was surprised that talents like Maupin, Logan and the dancing acts didn’t get recognized.

Judge Bill Mifsud, however, did explain to the audience, “It was hard to pick just three.”

That’s a lame excuse. We should have at least had honorable mentions!  

(I’m just kidding, Bill. Sort of. As you can see, I’m used to those participatory awards little leagues give out.)

My husband, son and parents met me at the bottom of the stage. My son, Matthew, 12 years old—and my biggest fan—gave me a smile and a pat on the back.

Yup, mommy lost.

We walked back out to the alley and then to our cars.

But not before I asked a stage-hand backstage, “Was I supposed to walk out when the blue lights went dim? Or after the lights came back up?”

(Turns out I walked out at the right time—surely, there’s a prize for that!)

Yes, these competitions aren’t for the faint of heart.

So, do I Got Talent?

Do I have The Voice?

I’ll always fantasize that I’m on that televised stage, colored-confetti raining down all over me, with my family crying in the audience. And me – taking to the microphone to sing some cheesy Top-40 song that will be on the radio the next day.

But quite honestly, I think it’s OK if I never find out.

And I’m A-OK with being the most talented person inside my bedroom walls.


Jenny Arbizu is a freelance writer for New SV Media. She is also a substitute teacher, singer, crossfitter, and an obvious drama-queen in SBSC productions (and at home).
For information about San Benito Stage Company, visit sanbenitostage.org.

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