For the second time in its five years, Valley’s Got Talent, a big-production talent show held at the Gallo Center, ended with a first-place tie. But for the first time, both acts were teenagers.
Alida McKeon and Carolina Stevens both were crowned as winners of the two-night event in late August event – a decision made at the last second.
“Both girls were exceptional,” said Kim Johnston Ulrich, an actress and five-year judge on the annual event. Her husband and fellow judge, Robert Ulrich, is a casting director for the Fox musical comedy-drama “Glee,” and helped jump-start singer-actress Lindsay Pearce’s career when she won Valley’s Got Talent in 2009.
“We couldn’t choose between (McKeon and Stevens). Their vocals were both phenomenal,” Johnston Ulrich said.
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The decision surprised Stevens, who said she “had not expected to win anything.” A freshman at Southern Oregon University and daughter of two professional opera singers, Stevens said she just tried to have fun with the performance. Her song, “Taylor, the Latte Boy,” originally sung by Kristen Chenoweth, is a comical ballad that mixes her two passions: acting and singing.
“I just kind of went out there and enjoyed myself without expecting to win anything. And the audience was amazing. There was so much energy in the room,” Stevens, an 18-year-old Modestan, said.
As a four-year judge of the event, Jim Johnson, Arts Education Coordinator for the Gallo Center, had many positive things to say about both girls. “There’s so much talent, and it’s so hard to judge,” he said. “But when the evening’s over, who really caused me to say ‘Wow. That was something else.’? And Carolina did just that.”
For Johnson, Stevens’ performance had a “Broadway quality” to it, and Johnston Ulrich commended Stevens on her “superb acting.”
“I can see myself in a career with music and acting,” Stevens said. “I really love performing.”
McKeon definitely displayed her level of talent at the show with her jazzy rendition of a song from “The Aristocats.”
“I’ve been singing my entire life,” said the 16-year-old from Oakdale said, Nora Jones as one of her idols.
Like Stevens, this wasn’t McKeon’s first year participating in Valley’s Got Talent, but it will certainly be the most memorable.
“Performing on the stage at the Gallo Center was really amazing,” she said. “I always get nervous before and after, but while I’m up there, I’m really comfortable.”
“(McKeon) was so unique in her interpretation, so charming, and so original,” Johnson noted, seconded by Johnston Ulrich, who mentioned that McKeon has that “certain spark, and she played piano and sung beautifully.”
In fact, according to both Johnson and Johnston Ulrich, all the performances at the show this year were better than ever. Other than consummate singers like McKeon and Stevens, there was an array of other acts, including musicians, magicians, dancers, and even comedians.
“This area has always had an incredible amount of talent, and it still does,” Johnston Ulrich said. “And the level of talent this year was crazy.
“There wasn’t a single bad act.”
Johnson agreed, noting, “The turnout this year was very big and very enthusiastic. Over the years, the community has learned that this is a terrific event where you’re just going to be blown away by the quality of the talent.”
With such high competition, you’d think there would be at the very least a bit of antagonism between McKeon and Stevens. But each girl said she has the utmost respect and admiration for the other.
“I think Alida is absolutely amazing,” Stevens said of her fellow competitor and now friend. “If I was a judge, I would’ve voted for her.”
McKeon shared the same admiration. “If I had to share the prize with anybody, it would’ve been Carolina. She’s so amazingly talented.”
In more ways than not, the decision to have a tie for first place seemed to work out for all.
“I wasn’t expecting to win,” admitted McKeon. “But the judges dug into their own pockets and came up with a (first place) prize for both of us, which was really generous. I was very surprised.”
Says Stevens of the tie, “The whole thing was completely unbelievable. Even if I didn’t win, I’d look back on this all with fondness,”
She added, with elation in her voice, “It was a wonderful experience I will definitely remember for a long time.”