On Saturday evening, the spotlight was on 20 young Olathe artists, as they shared their talents with judges and an audience during the eighth annual Olathe’s Got Talent performance at the Bell Cultural Events Center.
The program’s vocalists, dancers, musicians, actors and visual artists were among dozens of their creative peers who participated in the Olathe’s Got Talent audition process last fall to earn their place as finalists. The students, ranging in age from 7 to 19, competed April 28 for a chance to win one of nearly a dozen scholarships.
The scholarships included the $1,500 Simmons Bank Showstopper Award, the competition’s largest award.
“Being involved with the Optimist Club and the bank that sponsors this award is very gratifying,” said Kris Kirkes, Simmons Bank branch manager. “The opportunity for the kids to perform in a first-class venue is off the charts, and the difference this makes in their lives is amazing. They each feel like they are the star of the show.”
One of Saturday evening’s stars — and the Simmons Showstopper Award recipient — was 14-year-old pianist Luis Gomez-Campos. The Santa Fe Middle School student performed Rachmaninoff’s “Polichinelle.”
Gomez-Campos’ musical gifts were discovered in what many would consider an unlikely way. While mastering a music video game six years ago, his parents noticed their son’s spark and purchased him a programmed keyboard. Gomez-Campos quickly surpassed the keyboard’s capacity and his parents took the next steps, finding a piano teacher and purchasing a piano, so their son could pursue his passion and vision of becoming a concert pianist.
Ruth Nelson, an arts funding leader in Kansas, was the inspiration for Olathe’s Got Talent.
“Ruth came to me eight years ago with the idea for Olathe’s Got Talent. The thing that impressed me was that she wasn’t ‘talking’ about doing something, she was taking action,” said Victor Dougherty, singer/songwriter and Olathe’s Got Talent co-director.
Michael Ashcraft, Olathe’s Got Talent development director, says Nelson is always looking out for youth. “Ruth is the heart and soul behind Olathe’s Got Talent,” he said.
Nelson said the Optimists were hoping to develop a more hands-on event for Olathe’s kids.
“There was a need in the arts and I wanted to create more community awareness for the arts,” Nelson said. “Also, I knew we had a lot of talented people in our community.
“Olathe’s Got Talent gets others out in the community to see the performers, validates teachers, the work the students are doing, and the parents who support their kids in the arts.”
The benefits of Olathe’s Got Talent are many for the young artists, Nelson noted. In addition to scholarship opportunities, which have totaled more than $50,000 over the past eight years, participants grow through the process as their artistic dreams begin to unfold.
Elizabeth Booze was awarded the Olathe Noon Optimist Scholarship for her self-choreographed contemporary dance — a dance that, just a few years ago, seemed unlikely at best.
For the past several years, Booze has struggled with a number of health issues. Diagnosed with scoliosis at 12, she was required to wear a brace 20 hours a day for a year and a half. Then, during her freshman year, Booze suffered from depression.
“Freshman year is not easy for anyone,” Booze said. “I developed anxiety about my grades and needed to be in the perfection zone.”
Booze choreographed her dance as a reflection on her struggles and to speak to those who experience similar challenges.
Vocalist Veronica Palii also chose to perform a song imbued with personal significance for her. An exchange student from Moldova, the Olathe Northwest senior won the $1,000 Walmart-West for her performance of Natasha Bedingfield’s song, “Soulmate.”
“The song touches my soul,” Palii said. “It talks about how difficult it is to find someone to love who will love you back.”
The commitment and dedication of these young artists was echoed by the all-volunteer team that organizes and produces Olathe’s Got Talent. The directors, mentors and judges are all professionals in arts-related fields and committed to seeing the participant’s dreams and goals realized.
In addition to Dougherty, the creative team includes Marc Wayne, Charlotte Brotherson and Tyson Murphy.
“We watch kids go from shy to seeing their potential, as we fan their flames through the mentoring process and dress rehearsals,” said Jane Ashcraft, lead volunteer. “Then the lights go down, the spotlights come up, and they’re transformed.”