NEPA’s Got Talent: Dozens Turn Out For Singing Competition

February 9, 2019
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NEPA's Got Talent: Dozens Turn Out For Singing Competition

KINGSTON — The cameras focused on Haley Lyle as she entered the music room Saturday morning, preparing to give what she said was the first public performance of her life.

“I’ve been singing in my shower for 20 years,” the 20-year-old Fairview Twp. resident told the judges.

She began crooning “I’ll Never Love Again” by Lady Gaga — from the movie “A Star is Born” — to judges Lorenzo Medico and Leighann Burke. The judges, both performers themselves, were visibly impressed.

“Are you kidding with us? That’s not your first time,” Medico said when the singing stopped.

“No, but I was really nervous. It sounds better in the shower,” Lyle said.

“And funny,” Medico continued. “You have whistle tone, which is impossible. It’s not possible to do. I can’t even believe that you’re able to do that. Mariah Carey was probably the last person to ever be able to do that. And it’s very difficult and you’re doing it effortlessly.”

Lyle was one of dozens of people who turned up at Wyoming Seminary’s Kirby Center for the Creative Arts to audition for NEPA Sings, an event to benefit Court Appointed Special Advocates of Luzerne County, a volunteer group that advocates on behalf of abused and neglected children in court.

“One of the maxims, if you will, of CASA is: ‘Lift up a child’s voice. A child’s life,’” CASA of Luzerne County Executive Director John Aciukewicz said. “So we thought what a creative and exciting way to blend that principle with bringing out some people to raise awareness for CASA and perhaps raise some money. More importantly, just do something different in the community where people can come out and display their talent for a good cause.”

The contestants — ranging from high school students to barroom singers to a 71-year-old former Playboy Bunny — were vying to become one of 12 finalists who will compete on stage during the main competition in April.

The first-place winner will receive three hours of studio recording time, a studio tape and the opportunity to sing the national anthem at a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins game, Aciukewicz said. The second-place winner will receive a $500 gift card to Guitar Center.

The auditions Saturday were brief — each person had only a few minutes to wow the judges with an a cappella performance of a song of their choosing. In a pre-performance briefing, WBRE-TV personality Dave Kuharchik explained that the judges would not only be looking at pure singing ability, but also elements such as style and poise.

“We’re looking for the best singer, but there are other parts to that,” Kuharchik said.

Competitors included Hailey Rivera, a 17-year-old junior at Coughlin High School, who described the experience as “a little nerve-racking” but said she felt more at ease than when she auditioned for NEPA Sings’ inaugural event last year.

“I have always loved singing and I’ve always felt that in an area where the arts are kind of given the raw end of the deal that it’s important to sort of be a representation of what the arts are capable of giving to people,” Rivera said. “I’m proud to be a performer and I’m proud to show what I’m capable of as a singer.”

Perhaps the oldest competitor was 71-year-old Nancy Palumbo, who told the judges she made an interesting career change after working as a stewardess for TWA.

“I didn’t want to be away from my husband, so I took a job as a Playboy Bunny at the New York City Playboy Club, because it was a daytime job at that time,” Palumbo said.

She sang the 1967 Herman’s Hermits hit “There’s a Kind of Hush” for the judges while wearing a frog puppet on her right hand.

Many of the contestants said they were glad to be able to participate in the event to help a worthy cause.

“I’m just really fortunate that I get the chance to do this and use my voice for CASA, which helps the voiceless,” said Jacob Thomas, a 16-year-old student at Dallas High School. “I’m glad I’m able to give an audition for something like this. It’s been great.”

The competitors will have to wait to learn how they fared in the competition. NEPA Sings plans to announce the finalists on Tuesday.

NEPA Sings will be held Thursday, April 11 at Wyoming Seminary’s Kirby Center for the Creative Arts, with a reception starting at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

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