From 50 original contenders, the Oro Valley’s Got Talent inaugural run recently narrowed the pool to the 10 most entertaining, skillful and chipmunk-voiced members of the local community. 

Gathering into the Gaslight Music Hall on a monsoon-soaked Sunday night, the finalists competed for $1,750 in total prize money (plus plenty of bragging rights). 

The evening featured the season’s three recurring judges: Tucson Local Media’s Logan Burtch-Buus, 106.3 FM’s Krystal Pino, and Tina Jennings, formerly on The Morning Blend. The finale featured special celebrity guest, TV director and nephew of the legendary Gene Kelly, Michael Kelly. 

While the judges provided constructive feedback to the finalists and filled out score sheets, the fate of the 10 acts also sat in the hand of Gaslight Music Hall Producer Robert Shaw who carried a decibel meter measuring the audience’s cheering. Each act also played two performances.

First to the stage was Quadrant 44, a rock band whose original members’ ages collectively add up to—you guessed it—44. The now five-piece of 11-year-olds founded their band during an elementary school lunch period, and have rocked out ever since. 

Their first performance covered AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll),” and their second covered Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The judges praised the kids’ high energy, song choices and general rambunctious attitude. Decibel score: 83. 

Taking music in another direction, the second performer was comedy folk-singer Brian Newman. Onstage, he dressed like he was recently in a car accident. 

“This is as cute as I get,” Newman said. 

The attire matched his song, lamenting the woes of his significant other who cannot drive very well. His second song, played with a T-bone steak designed guitar, told the story of a vegan struggling to get food in the South. The judges admired his humor, but suggested he commit to the costumes more. Decibel score: 84. A new high score! 

At only 11 years old, the third performer, Liana Sims, danced to a variety of music, including hip hop, funk and pop. The judges were amazed at the athletic abilities in her dancing, especially over multiple genres. Decibel score: 82. 

“I’m pretty sure you moved more in 12 bars than I did in a whole week,” Shaw said after Sims’ first performance. 

Lauren Lawson, 15, is a singer/songwriter with more talent than her age would indicate. As the fourth performer, she sang an original song and then a cover of “Beyond” by Leon Bridges. The judges applauded her songwriting ability at such a young age. Decibel score: 82. 

“I can tell you have a lot of heart when you sing,” Kelly said. 

Ever the wildcard, fifth in line was Susan Damron, who made it through the season by doing comedic chipmunk impressions. However, for the finals she switched it up and sang “Pour Me” by Trick Pony. Although the Western vibes worked well with the Gaslight Theatre, the switch-up confused the judges. Damron corrected this by switching back to the chipmunk routine for her second performance. Decibel score: 80.

“I don’t even know what to expect from you anymore,” Shaw said. “But it’s going to be fun.” 

Possibly the most unique performer of the night was number six, clogger Katie Popiel. Her dancing added polyrhythms over the music, at first classical and then “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani. The judges praised her presentation and energy. Decibel score: 82.

“I wish there was a microphone on your shoes,” Pino said. “Your calves must be killing you!” 

The seventh performer, Megan Arkley, shared the personal relationship she had to each song before she sang them: “I’m Alive” by Becca and “The Phoenix” by Fall Out Boy. Arkley gave messages of hope and had the audience clapping along. Decibel score: 83. 

“I look forward to seeing you on the stage more often,” Pino said. “Because that’s where you belong.” 

Rhiannon Wilson, 14, experienced the largest change in quality between her two sessions. The eighth performer’s first folk song, a cover of Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue” was hindered by nerves, which the judges picked up on. But her second song, a deeply personal original track about her family, caught the judges’ attention and praise. Decibel score: 81. 

“You’re not just a singer, you’re a songwriter.” Burtch-Buus said. “And you should be proud of that.” 

The youngest performer of the night was ninth in turn: dancer Peighton Rolfe, 9. Taking over a dozen dance classes a week, Rolfe mixed her styles between ballet, gymnastics and even contortionism at times. Decibel score: 82.

“I’m never gonna need to give you a tip about your energy,” Kelly said. 

The night’s final performer was singer Carissa Corona. The mother of three sang a cover of “Tennessee Whiskey” for her first song, and then sang a dedication to her daughter. The judges lauded her powerful vocals, stage confidence and the sweetness of a mother-daughter song. Decibel score: 83. 

“I wish I could bottle that confidence,” Jennings said. “I’ve never said this to another woman, but thank you for ruining my makeup, because I was crying during that.” 

The end of the show gathered all the performers on stage for a final applause, and then the moment of truth came. 

In third place, receiving $250: Quadrant 44. In second place, receiving $500: Katie Popiel. And finally, the grand winner of Oro Valley’s Got Talent 2018, and the winner of $1000: Carissa Corona. 

“I never expected to win,” Corona said. “I didn’t think the song with my daughter would be the strongest, but I guess people really liked it.” 

Corona’s daughter was also a contestant for Oro Valley’s Got Talent, and Corona decided to sing for her so she could get back on stage for the finals round. As for the victory money: 

“I have three kids,” Corona said. “So, sadly, I’m going to be responsible with it.” 

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