MODESTO — Shelly Bort won the $1,500 E.&J. Gallo Winery grand prize at the fourth annual Valley's Got Talent contest at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday night.
Bort played piano and sang "I Know You Won't." She was accompanied by drummer Ian Stambaugh.
Other prize winners were Liliana Peau (vocal), Josh Rosenblum Band (band), Chez Paris (dance), Dazzling Duo (instrumental), Drew Monson and an Elderly Woman He's Related To (specialty) and Joseph Rykert (Paul M. Tischer Classical Music Scholarship). Rykert got $500, and the rest received $750 each. Saxophonist Khalil Williams was the audience favorite for his rendition of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror."
This year's competition, which raises money for the nonprofit Gallo Center, featured 27 acts. The winners were chosen by a panel of eight judges, with the audience at Friday's performance serving as the ninth vote. The judges were: Emmy Award-winning casting agent and Modesto native Robert Ulrich ("Glee") and his wife, actress and Ripon native Kim Johnston Ulrich ("Passions"), Gallo Center board President Marie Gallo, Gallo Center board Chairwoman Britta Foster, Gallo Center Arts Education Director Jim Johnson, Modesto Bee publisher Eric Johnston, KHOP's MoJo Roberts and Sierra Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Scott Viets.
"I think the talent is amazing," Ulrich said. "This year is the hardest year because there are so many extraordinary people."
Viets, who was judging for the first year, said he was impressed with the skill level of the young contestants. "So many people are so well trained. There are obviously a lot of good teachers in Modesto," he said.
Sarah Ortega, the competition's coordinator, received 127 submissions of DVDs or recordings from performers and invited the best to live auditions. That group was whittled down to 27.
Jonathan Stoner, a Pasadena resident who attended Friday's and Saturday's performances, said he was pleased with the talent. "I think across the board, it's been excellent," he said.
Winners have a shot at greater opportunities thanks to Ulrich's Hollywood connections. He encouraged 2010 grand prize winner Lindsay Pearce and 2011 grand prize winner Francesca (Heyward) Bavaro to audition for "The Glee Project," the Oxygen network series that picks cast members for the Fox show "Glee."
Pearce made it to the final four on "The Glee Project" and appeared in two episodes of "Glee." Bavaro didn't make it on to "Glee Project."