'Haywood's Got Talent' heads into finals

By Stina Sieg | Sep 21, 2011
Photo by: Stina Sieg Local singer Holly Harmon was one of dozens of performers who competed in last week's semi finals for "Haywood's Got Talent." The finals are this Friday.

Haywood County is no New York City, Los Angeles or Nashville. And many, maybe most, who live here are thankful for it. But there’s no question that “Haywood’s Got Talent” — especially not after last week’s semi finals for the brand-new, incredibly diverse, breathtakingly impressive talent show.

That round of the competition, which stretched across two nights and featured 31 acts, wasn’t just fun to watch. It was a sweet introduction to a community of performers that most people around here probably don’t know exists. While these singers, actors, musicians and dancers were all competing for the lofty title of “Haywood’s Most Talented,” they also just looked happy to be there.

As Holly Harmon was waiting backstage Friday night, the 19-year-old Maggie Valley resident was smiling and joking around. The singer, however, also sounded determined. Last year, she and about 6,000 other teens competed in order to sing at Carnegie Hall with the American Honors High School Performance Series. She was one of 235 who got in. Even after that win, she sees “Haywood’s Got Talent” as no small potatoes.

“It feels just as big as that, honestly,” she said. “Competition is competition.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s cutthroat. Harmon, who was dressed in a poodle skirt, glittering-gold glasses and a towering, purple beehive wig, was in costume to play a screaming fan for singers Dan Goss and Raymond Yarnutoski’s rock ‘n’ roll medley. Though Harmon had her own act coming up — her version of Ingrid Michaelson’s girlie, crowd-pleasing pop song, “The Way I Am” — she didn’t mind helping her fellow competitors out.

“A lot of people are rooting for everyone else,” she said, of the other contestants. “It’s a very collective atmosphere.”

All around her, other performers were proving her point. No one had an intimidating game face on, and most everyone was offering words of encouragement as other acts made their way on and off stage. It was as light-hearted as it could be, considering that half of these folks weren’t going to make the cut for the show’s upcoming finale.

Thomas Tatham, a 14-year-old banjo player who looks closer to 21, explained that as a baseball and basketball player at Pisgah High School, he definitely has a competitive side. That said, the unfailingly friendly (and incredibly tall) Canton native wasn’t going to let himself get worked up. The question of who is the most talented local is a big one, he went on, and he’s not going to stress about the answer.

He’s “not worried about it,” he said. “If it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Sitting in literal spitting distance, the men of the Franklin-based Dog House Duo had a similar attitude about the night. Phil Myers, 58, and his pal, John Hawk, 65, were laughing and joking as they practiced their mountain dulcimers. Both stressed that, no matter what happened, they were enjoying themselves. Not only was the wide variety of talent around them impressive, but the building’s acoustics was knocking their socks off.

“I told Phil, ‘I would rather play here than anywhere,’” Hawk said. “The venue is fantastic.”

Even the show’s littlest performers, and there were quite a few of them, seemed to have a professional-grade poise that night. In another corner of the place, 7-year-old Katia Roach expressed a little hutzpah as she was getting primped before her monologue from the “Fancy Nancy” book series. The tiny thespian — who was dressed like a pink princess, complete with a tiara, bracelets and glitter on her rosy cheeks — admitted that it’s kind of intimidating to compete with so many experienced performers. But she wasn’t about to let that get her down.

“Everybody who gets on stage — everybody gets nervous,” she said.

While this age-old rule applies to so many in the theater world, the contestants’ nerves were expertly hidden for the most part as they performed that night. The show, which included feedback from a judging panel made up of HART regulars, moved quickly, with several acts getting huge applause and cries of encouragement from the audience. Harmon’s voice delighted the crowd, and Roach charmed them. The Dog House Duo kept the audience rapt, and Tatham awed them. Everyone was supported heartily, and not just because they were local. It was because they were good.

There was something special about the night, and it was impossible not to notice it. Trevor Perry, who powerfully tackled a show tune that evening, explained what made the show matter so much, at least to him. Though the 28-year-old, Asheville-based singer and actor has done plenty of performances, he knows there’s something different about a competition like this. In a typical show, he’s able to slip into a character, to hide within a facade. At “Haywood’s Got Talent,” however, he had to take the risk to go onstage as himself.

It’s nerve wracking, he explained, “to open yourself up that much.”

But it’s also amazing.

“I think it definitely makes a performance more intimate,” he said. “The feeling of pride you get from that is unimaginable.”

Tickets are now on sale for the final night of “Haywood’s Got Talent,” which will determine which act goes home with the $1,000 prize. The show, which includes audience voting, will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at HART, 250 Pigeon St. in Waynesville. The box office is open from 1 to 5 p.m. daily and can be reached at 456-6322.

'Haywood's Got Talent' finale lineup

Dog House Duo — dulcimer

Nick Bailey — piano and vocal

Fox Violinists

Ashley Wood — vocalist

Regan Mulvey — song and dance

Trevor Perry — vocalist

Thomas Tatham — banjo

Heather Ferguson — opera soprano

Michaela Hannah — dance

Martin’s Machine — rock band

Lyle Baskin — guitar

Katelyn Hammel — violin

Rak Shakuraka Dance Company

Madison Garris — vocalist