UNION, NJ — Sixteen different singers, dancers and performers walked onto the dark stage at Union High School, each accompanied by an introductory video as they prepared for their role in the Union’s Got Talent showcase last week. The introductions informed the audience, which mostly filled the 750-seat auditorium, who they were, why they were performing and what they’d do if they won the $1,000 grand prize.
Answers varied from person to person, but in the end, just before the videos ended and the spotlight turned center-stage, they all echoed the same phrase: “Union’s got talent, I’ve got talent.”
That was the recurring theme at the third annual edition of “Union’s Got Talent,” held at Union High School on Saturday, Sept. 26. The show featured children and adults, comedians and violinists, and soloists and group performers, all of them artists from Union.
“You have such a range of different talents and different people,” said Alyssa Muniz, who sang “Elastic Heart” by Sia. “I don’t know what other town does this, and it’s on such a big scale, and for a really good cause. The lighting guy does Broadway things. All of these people are professionals. They just bring together the best people to put on something for us, and I really appreciate the opportunity they’re giving us that way.”
At the end of the night, long after the last song, the four local celebrity judges — among them Union High School teacher Nicholas Ferroni — awarded Muniz First Place, for her captivating cover of “Elastic Heart.”
“I really like that song. And I love when an audience knows it, so I thought maybe I could get that in there. The best songs to sing are the ones you like, because it really comes through,” said Muniz. “It just felt amazing to be up there, to be singing and doing what we love, and getting acknowledged for it.”
There were 15 other performers, though, that helped make this year’s show a “full production,” said Muniz, which wowed the crowd from the beginning. When Jaden and Ellis Foreman opened “Union’s Got Talent,” by tap dancing to “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, there was a thunderous applause that would be matched numerous times.
A cover of comedy rap “Goose MCs,” performed by Union High School student Jason Rivera, lit the auditorium up with laughter. Local artist Eboni Pearce, whose son encouraged her to audition in May, sang and played an original song, “Roses.”
“The simple fact that I can come back and actually see the talent, it really is more about seeing everyone who’s talented and is also from Union,” said Marcel Smith, the show’s runner-up, who played “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith. “We really don’t have that many shows where we can express the talent in Union, and we have a lot of talent in Union.”
It was a great opportunity for everyone involved, said Muniz, and it was “cool to be in something where kids and adults perform” one after the other, she said.
Angela Zhang, a Jefferson Elementary student who performed “Reflection” from “Mulan,” won the show’s Youth Award, while the People’s Choice Award went to Brianna Terrezza, a Kawameeh Middle School student, for singing “Let It Go” from “Frozen.”
Most of the show’s proceeds went to three non-profits: the Union High School Performing Arts Company, the Township of Union Education Foundation, and the Douglas Michael Krueger Scholarship Fund, organizations which help arts students in Union via grants and scholarships.
“‘Union’s Got Talent’ brought together the community to help fund three different organizations that benefit students in Union Township,” said Mayor Manny Figueiredo, one of the event’s judges. “And that’s to be commended.”
The rest of the fundraising went to the winners’ cash prizes, including $1,000 for first place and $500 for the runner-up. That’s an appreciated gesture for Smith, who will use the money to help pay for student loans, he said, while Muniz wants to use her cash prize to continue following the dream of performing.
“I want to pursue singing and acting and take classes. I have a vocal coach, I want to keep doing that, I want to get myself immersed into New York City as much as possible,” sand Muniz. “And I need to take my bus pass to do that.”