UNION, NJ — The final round is set for “Union’s Got Talent,” which will highlight the best and brightest aspiring artists in Union on Saturday, Sept. 26, according to event organizers with the Union High School Performing Arts Company.
Some of the remaining 16 performers have day jobs, including an engineer, while others are still attending elementary or middle school. There will be singers, musicians, a juggler and more, with the source material ranging from Frozen’s “Let It Go” to the musings of a local comedian.
But onstage in the Union High School Theater, under the bright lights of the auditorium and positioned in front of local celebrity judges, only three of the performers will be honored by “Union’s Got Talent:” The first-place winner, a runner-up, and a People’s Choice Award honoree.
The judges will be selecting the first-place and runner-up winners, who will leave the theater with prizes of $1,000 and $500, respectively, according to Jennifer Williams, the Choreographer with UHSPAC. And the judges making these decisions, added Williams, will be familiar faces to Union residents.
“We have great celebrity guest judges this year. The mayor of Union is one of our judges, Mayor Manuel Figueiredo, as well as a Union High School teacher who was voted People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Teacher Alive,’ Nick Ferroni,” said Williams. “And then we have Lisa Cooney, who is the director of education at the Papermill Playhouse, as well as Ilene Greenbaum, who runs this great non-profit orchestra called the the Encore Orchestra of New Jersey. And there’s exposure for everyone involved, as well, you never know who’s in the audience.”
And although the judges won’t speak in-between events, “Union’s Got Talent” is otherwise based on the ideas of similarly titled T.V. shows, like NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” The goal of the event, which conducted auditions earlier in the summer, is to find talented residents pursuing a career in the performing arts, and then help showcase their abilities to a wider audience.
“This year, we had our auditions at the end of May,” said Williams. “It’s a great way to kind of expose students, and other people in Union, to the different sorts of talent and art forms that we have out there.”
There will be a wide variety of performances on display, added Williams, in the upcoming final round, when the performers’ months of hard work will be put to the test.
The audience can come see conventional acts, such as a classical musician performing Beethoven, or the duo singing the mega pop hit “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. There will also be novelty acts, said Williams, including a juggler, and other unexpected performers, such as a young jazz quartet playing a Louis Armstrong cover.
All of the members of the jazz quartet are just entering middle school, added Williams, which shows a “different art to kids their age,” in the spirit of “Union’s Got Talent.”
And if the jazz quartet, or any other performer or group, is unable to capture first place or runner-up, they can always be rewarded for a job well done through the People’s Choice Award.
“In the audience, you can vote for the contestant that you like best, or that you want to win. So in the front lobby we have bags with each contestant’s photo on the front, and every dollar that you donate counts as a vote toward that contestant,” said Williams. “If you vote $20, that counts as 20 votes toward that contestant, and the winner will win $250 and be crowned the ‘People’s Choice Winner’ of ‘Union’s Got Talent.’”
All of the proceeds, added Williams, serve another purpose of the event, which is to raise funds that support local art programs. There are three separate groups that benefit: UHSPAC, which is “one of the top training programs for arts students in the state of New Jersey,” said Williams; the Township of Union Education Foundation, which has given $150,000 in grants to Union teachers; and the Douglas Michael Krueger Scholarship fund, which has provided $25,000 in scholarships to Union High School seniors.
Each of the groups are active members in the community, said Williams, who aim to provide students with a superior arts education. And they will all have a presence at “Union’s Got Talent,” which will showcase the end result of that kind of creative learning.
“When we put the show together, we have packages of each contestant, so you can learn a little bit more about them before they perform. We have elementary school kids singing, and the adults that we have are great,” said Williams. “We have a lot of singers this year, and there so many amazing voices that we have in our town. It’s so great to be able to showcase all the different things we have to offer, in terms of the performing arts.”