More than 250 people squeezed into the Gaslight Music Hall last Sunday evening to watch the finale of the Oro Valley’s Got Talent competition. For the second year in a row, the family-owned theater put out a call for all talented Tucsonans ages 8 and up to show off their best singing, dancing, acting and other performing specialties.

Beginning in June, three local celebrity judges narrowed the lot down to 36 acts, then down to 20 in the semi-finals, and just 10 for the finale. Each contestant’s score is based on judge feedback and audience reaction, the latter is gaged by a decibel reader perched just to the right of the stage.

At the last show, which featured each finalist performing two acts for the audience, three women came out on top.

Katie Popiel, a professional clog dancing teacher, wowed the crowd with two tap-dancing routines set to a soundtrack she mixed herself. 

“I have to first pick a song that I’m inspired by and then I just listen to it as much as I can,” Popeil told the crowd. “I knew that I would have a rough plan based on what I was hearing in the music, and then there would be some improv.”

The judges said Popiel’s enthusiasm and mastery of the skill are what earned her third place and a $250 prize. The crowd gave her a 106 and 107 decibel score.

Erin Garrett, who specializes in classical singing, showed off her incredible voice and made the audience feel like they were sitting in an opera with her powerful renditions of “Ave Maria” and “Nessun Dorma.” 

“We hear that song [Ave Maria] everywhere, at weddings, at funerals, everywhere, and that song just brings out so many emotions and you just did it so effortlessly, so perfectly,” judge Carissa Corona told Garrett after her performance.

The crowd applauded her with a 108 and 110 decibel score. Garrett’s efforts earned second place with a $500 prize.

Rounding out both rounds, KileyJae gave soulful singing performances that left the crowd wanting more. Her first song was Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain” which she played on a blue electric guitar. Her second performance was Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” where she enticed the crowd to sing and clap along as she danced through the theater’s aisles and engaged with audience members.

“This is how you close a show, ladies and gentlemen,” judge Leslie Lois exclaimed.

The audience gave her a 108 and 111 decibel reading, showing their enthusiasm for her action-packed performance. Kileyjae won first place, and received $1,000 in a big novelty check.

“Last year I did this show and I really wanted to do ‘Proud Mary’ but I wasn’t ready for it, so since that last show I’ve danced in my room to this song,” she said after the show. “I’ve been practicing since last year for this specific song, hoping I would make it.”

The 18-year-old said she sees this event as an opportunity to practice on stage so she can go on tour some day. She already knows what she wants to do with her prize money as well.

“I’m going to put it in a savings account,” KileyJae said. “I want to go to business school and start my own record label company.”

The theater staff also found great success that evening, having produced a show that ran better than last year, according to Gaslight founder Tony Terry. He said their team was more organized and had a clearer vision of how they wanted to present the talent, which worked well alongside a growing audience in northwest Tucson.

“We sold out within about three days,” Terry said. “To be able to sell something out in the middle of the summer time in Oro Valley is an accomplishment. Every year that we’re there, the audiences have grown and grown.”

The event was born from an idea between Terry and his friend and former music hall producer and artistic director Robert Shaw, who was instrumental in opening the music hall.

“He worked with a theater in Mesa that did a talent show and so we kind of built our own based on that,” Terry said.

He was also extremely pleased with the judging panel this year, which was comprised of Tucson Local Media Managing Editor Logan Burtch-Buus, 94.9 MIXfm Host Leslie Lois and last year’s Oro Valley’s Got Talent winner, Carissa Corona.

“I could put myself in their shoes, I could understand their nerves, the thought process of getting ready for the show and just the excitement of everything and I tried to take that into consideration when I was judging,” Corona said.

She believes that contestants who didn’t win this year should still come back next year and try again, because the practice is invaluable and it’s important to showcase local performers.

“I think it’s underrated in a sense,” Corona said of the talent pool in Southern Arizona. “Obviously, there’s so much talent out there and this year people really brought their A game the entire time. So I’m glad I didn’t compete this year.”

Terry said the Gaslight has a unique opportunity with this event because it allows them to collaborate with many of the gifted contestants in their two different theaters. You might just see some of their faces in a future production.

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