Bennington County's Got Talent: Their turn to shine

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BENNINGTON — With the house lights dimmed and a spotlight hanging overhead, the twelve finalists took their turns performing before the audience of 150 people. When the singing and story-telling was done, it was the youngest performer who captured the crowd's heart during the first annual Bennington County's Got Talent live performance competition Sunday.

Nine-year-old Natalie Perkins, of Cambridge, N.Y. took home the $1,000 grand prize. Perkins, who sang "Hello" by Lionel Richie, received a standing ovation from the audience — and the event's four judges, too. She was the second to last performer of the day.

"Natalie, I actually didn't like it," judge Chris Oldham said, just seconds before he stood up, and pointed his finger at her. "I loved it, and you keep on doing that and you're going to go far. I swear to god; good for you."

The event, hosted by Oldcastle Theatre Company, was presented by the Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal. There wasn't an empty seat in the house; in fact, the show was sold out a week in advance. The competition was sponsored by Bennington Subaru, with TAM Inc., and Oldcastle Theatre as additional cornerstone sponsors.

Members of Perkins' family sat toward the front of the crowd with colorful signs showing support for the young singer. Perkins said that both of her grandparents were present for her performance along with her parents, cousins, and aunt and uncle.

"It feels amazing, and I'm really grateful for it," Perkins said about her win. "I loved every second of it."

Of the twelve finalists, eleven brought an array of music to the stage that included pop, metalcore and rock, country, and much more. One of the performers decided to tell a humorous story to the crowd rather than sing.

While each of the four judges picked their own choice for winner, the audience ultimately made the decision. Each attendee was provided with a booklet with information about each performer, with a special page dedicated to casting their vote.

In addition to Chris Oldham, who is the director of the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless, the judges included Christopher LaFlamme, owner of Laflamme's Furniture; John Shannahan, executive director of the Bennington Downtown Alliance; and Ericka Floriani, marketing and operations director of at Oldcastle Theatre. Each judge offered praise and some critique for each performance.

The competition was emceed by Matt Harrington, of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, and Mike Cutler of CAT-TV. Each provided commentary and helped introduce each guest before they hit the stage.

CAT-TV streamed the competition live on their Facebook page and on television. Some of the judges told each performer about the comments they were getting online, reported that the event had more than 6,000 views.

About 35 people tried out for the competition when it began in November. An online call for talent was posted and each contestant was judged by a preliminary panel of judges. Everyone who helped narrow down the finalists came from either a performing or creative background.

Warren McIntyre, a middle school student from Manchester, was the first singer of the evening, following Michael Nigro, who told a funny story. McIntyre performed Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud," singing and playing guitar. He said that if the event were to be held again, he would enter.

"I was nervous, especially being the second one," McIntyre said. "but it was great to perform. I would have rather went last though, because then you know what to expect. [Thinking Out Loud] was one of the first songs I learned to play and people said it really showcased my voice."

Between Now and Forever, a metalcore and rock band from Bennington, was the only group to have performed for the contest. They sang two original songs that the group composed, as the first song they performed was an intro for their album and was short. The group was praised by judges for bringing in a genre of music that most people in the crowd were not as familiar with.

"It was different for us," Irod Tobin, lead vocalist of Between Now and Forever, said. "It was fun, we also got to meet a lot of different people that we normally wouldn't have met."

Tobin said that the band's manager encouraged the band to try out for the competition as it would be a way to introduce their music to more people, and it would introduce people to a music genre that they weren't familiar with.


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