America’s Got Talent and So Does Morristown!
By Joe Weston
Morristown—Morristown’s Got Talent Show lit up the Mayo Performing Arts Center last Wednesday in true Hollywood style as one of its own, Tara Bernie, hosted the show. Bernie, a Morristown resident, is senior producer for NBC’s Access Hollywood and Access Hollywood Live.
As the Master of Ceremonies, Bernie interviewed sponsors, friends and family of performers, children, and VIP’s such as the superintendent of Morristown Schools; all who walked the red carpet in front of snapping cameras and news crews before enjoying the talent show.
In fact, one of the “fun” video clips shown to the audience after the red carpet interviews was Bernie leading a group of youngsters to shout out to the camera on cue: “Morristown’s Got Talent.”
Dubbed as the 7th Annual Morristown’s Got Talent: Hollywood Edition, the event showcased local performers ranging in age from 11 to 85. The almost-sold-out crowd enjoyed entertainment from a wide variety of acts—from solo singers to small bands to dancers to a 13 member barbershop harmonizing act, and included a talented violinist, pianist, a bass player, and 4 marimba artists.
Sixteen acts, who survived cuts in narrowing competition from the original seventy contestants, dazzled four distinguished judges from the arts profession to score a win, place and show purse of $1,000, $500, and $250; respectively.
The glitzy contest, which spotlights the best amateur talent from Morristown, Morris Plains, or Morris Township, is actually a fundraiser for the Morris Education Foundation (MEF), which is an integral part of the Morris School district. All of the monies raised will fund enrichment programs and other projects for the school district, enhancing the quality of education and opportunities for students, according to the Foundation’s recent press release.
Last year, Morristown‘s Got Talent event raised over $50,000 for the MEF; and most of that comes from local businesses. This year, Mill Creek Residential, who is currently building a luxury apartment community in Morristown, is the lead sponsor.
In fact, Hollywood’s Tara Bernie shared with the audience that the MEF has raised over 1.6 million dollars during its 21 years; funding grants, scholarships, and parent-teacher workshops.
“The school is the center of the community and builds pride,” said Debbie Sontupe, a board of trustee member of the Morris Educational Foundation. “It’s a night to celebrate our town and our community.
“It’s kind of fun. You come here to cheer on your colleague and neighbors,” Sontupe said before the event with excited anticipation.
Indeed, it was the close knit dynamic of the town that is responsible for some of the acts performing. For example, Ruddy Ioppolo, the owner of Anthony’s Pizza (located on the “green”), holds an “open mic night” for local performers to practice their craft. “We fill the place with musicians every Tuesday,” Ioppolo said.
“One night, we found ourselves harmonizing at the table and decided to do something with it,” Ioppolo said. His singing partners are Stephen DePasque, who works with him, and Jim DePasque, his Dad. At that same time, MEF member Sontupe and a member of the Morristown’s Got Talent steering committee, Marcy Yarnis, happened to be in the restaurant listening. They encouraged the three of them to compete. Fast forward to Wednesday night— this trio that calls themselves the Pizza Shop Boys had the crowd singing along and cheering to a show finale performance of a catchy 60’s tune.
Coincidentally, another contestant, Daniel Baldan, began performing publicly at the restaurant’s “open mic,” which has turned out to me an amazing mecca for local talent. Baldan sang David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while strumming his acoustic guitar. “This is definitely the largest crowd I’ve ever played in front of,” Baldan said before his performance at the Mayo.
Although 10 of the 16 acts were comprised of students, adult locals that earned finale status were just as excited to be on stage. Gabrielle Visser-Trumbull, a para-legal in town who sings in church and community theatre, received quite the applause after she sang Linda Eder’s “Someone Like You.”
The common thread among all the contestants was nailed down very succinctly by Hollywood’s Tara Bernie. “They all had a dream, they all had talent, and they all had tenacity.”