UNION, NJ — Auditions for the fourth annual fundraising event, “Union’s Got Talent,” was held this past weekend, as some of Union’s greatest talent came out to try for a chance to compete in UGT’s annual talent competition.
The event, which will be held in September and is produced by the Union High School Performing Arts Company and the Douglas Michael Krueger Scholarship Fund, draws talent of all ages and genres. This year’s show will include a partnership with Union through their “We Are Union” coalition, with Union’s Got Talent being featured as one of the main highlights during Mayor’s Weekend. All proceeds from the event help benefit the Douglas Michael Krueger Scholarship Fund, which awards scholarships to Union’s graduating high school seniors, as well as the Union High School Performing Arts Company.
The scholarship fund was started by Marie Krueger-Canarelli, who lost her son, Doug, in a car accident in 2004. According to Krueger-Canarelli, a longtime Union resident, Doug was very involved in many activities during his years at Union high school. He performed in theater productions, was a member of the marching band, jazz band and swing choir, and was student council president. After graduating from Wagner College, Doug went on to become the associate producer for MTV in New York City.
Krueger-Canarelli said that the scholarship fund is a way to keep Doug’s memory alive. “As a mother, I wasn’t going to let him die,” said Krueger-Canarelli of her son.
Jennifer Williams, public relations coordinator and choreographer for the performing arts company, said that she was a close friend of Doug’s and is thrilled to be a part of the event. “I have known Mrs. Kruger for a very long time,” said Williams. “Doug and I were friends throughout high school and beyond, and after he passed away it was really hard for all of us. Mrs. Krueger had always been an active supporter of our program, and when she approached us about doing Union’s Got Talent, it was really important for me be a part of it. Helping to keep Dougie’s name alive and being a part of an event that raises money in his name is something special for all of us. Our partnership has evolved this year; Getting together with Union under their “We are Union” coalition and it’s really exciting. Union’s Got Talent truly is a Union community event.”
Williams said that the auditions draw a wide range of participants, from elementary students to adults. “Each year the size varies, and we are hoping for a great turnout of diverse talents this year,” said Williams. “We get a lot of singers, dancers. We’ve had a few comedians come through as well.”
Nine-year-old Reydina Lawrence, of Union, was one of the many contestants waiting to audition. Reydina said that she was excited to perform her rendition of Rachel Platten’s, ‘Fight Song’ for the judges. “Every year they send out a paper to audition,” said Reydina of the UGT event. “This year I actually wanted to do it.”
Reydina, dressed in a multi-colored, pastel pleated sundress, said that although she was nervous, she felt confident. “I am nervous, but I think I’ll do pretty well,” said Reydina. “My mom says to just do my best.”
Williams said that during the audition round, there is a panel of judges who decide which contestants will make it through to the final competition. “Every year we try to bring in a variety of judges for our live show, ranging from Lisa Cooney, who runs the education department at Paper Mill Playhouse, to the Mayor of Union, Manny Figueiredo, who is a musician,” said Williams.
According to Williams, some of UGT’s winners have gone on to successful careers in the arts. “Last year’s winner, Alyssa Muniz — shortly after winning Union’s Got Talent — booked a national tour, singing and dancing all around the country,” Williams said. “Our past winners continue to perform and compete around the country as well.”
Krueger-Canarelli said that the past few years have offered many memorable moments. “Stand-out moments include our male salsa dancers Fabio and David Oliver, whose fast paced dancing brought the house down,” said Krueger-Canarelli. “Our host, Doc Burkhardt, has also brought the audience to its feet with his humorous antics, sensational vocals, and extraordinary hosting skills. Our UGT theme song, ‘Believe,’ was written and performed by UHS alumni Nick Javas. Nick was a friend of Doug’s and offered the rights to the song to Doc as a tribute to their mutual friend Doug Krueger,” she said.
Williams said that the excitement grows with each passing year. “Each year has brought more exciting memories than the next,” said Williams. “It’s exciting that our audiences have grown and our acts continue to grow. We really try to make our town the backdrop for our live show, which makes it really special. Last year we took the contestants to different locations in Union Center and filmed them at various businesses.
Those were some great moments. We are really excited to make this year’s show better than the last and continue to help showcase the wonderful talent here in our town all while helping to raise money for two wonderful causes that directly help our students,” said Williams.
Krueger-Canarelli said that the success of the event has been a group effort. “The success of UGT has been because of the dedication of UHSPAC and of Doug’s friends who have assisted in various capacities, from creating our logo to videotaping, to get this event initially off the ground and making this event a reality,” said Krueger-Canarelli.
Since its inception, the Douglas Michael Krueger Fund has provided more than $30,000 in scholarships to graduating UHS Seniors who have distinguished themselves in the performing arts.
The fund has also created a Papermill Playhouse Rising Star award, which awards a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating senior in New Jersey who is pursuing a career in the arts.
In addition, the fund has given financial support to individuals — many of whom are UHS alumni — who have created arts venues.
For additional information about the Douglas Michael Krueger Fund visit www.dmkscholarshipfund.webs.com.