Wednesday, Apr 17 2013 04:58 PM

Kern kids: Talent to burn

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    By Alex Horvath/ The Californian

    Christopher Bedke and Austin Hacker lip-sync a Bon Jovi song at last weekend's Frontier High School's Air band Competition.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Frontier senior Kelly Garrison and his band Garrison & Sons perform a Mumford & Sons hit during an air band competition on April 5 at Frontier High School. A similar event will be held this weekend at Bakersfield High.

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BY MATT MUNOZ Californian staff writer

All due respect to AC/DC, but it's not a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll -- at least not this week.

It'll just require a quick car trip downtown for dozens of talented high school kids to compete in the Phenom Best of Bakersfield Talent and Airband Competition at BHS' Harvey Auditorium. Plugging in, playing and singing are optional. Charisma and stage presence are not.

Related Info

Phenom Best of Bakersfield Talent / Airband Competition

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Bakersfield High Harvey Auditorium, 1241 G St.

Admission: $7 Friday, $10 Saturday

Information: 324-9841, ext. 71, or bakersfieldphenom

Carnegie Hall or bust

Christopher Borges' inspiration for the Phenom Best of Bakersfield Talent and Airband Competition is simple: He's tired of declining, for lack of funds, invitations his students receive to concerts and festivals, including the Choirs of America Annual American Music Performance Nationals next April -- at Carnegie Hall, the most prestigious concert hall in the country.

"The BHS choir is pretty well-established," Borges noted. "We have a great program, but it's still difficult for us to get money from the district for trips, especially of this magnitude. We get regular invites to participate in out-of-town shows all the time, but I always have to say no."

The trip is expected to cost $100,000. That's a lot of fundraisers, like the Phenom contest, which requires commitment, time and, most important: parent volunteers, like Alicia Ellsworth.

"Raising funds is always a labor of love on everybody's part," Ellsworth said. "This is a once-in-a-life time event to see the amazing things in New York City for most of these kids."

In the contest, Christopher Borges, choir director at BHS, saw a great opportunity to raise funds toward a hoped-for 2014 trip to Carnegie Hall for his students. But he's discovered along the way that this event is a lot more than a fundraiser. It has the makings of an invaluable showcase for Bakersfield's most talented teens.

"The kids always surprise us with what they come up with," he said. "The fact that we have involvement from across the district is great, making connections with all these kids who are doing such great things."

The contest, which runs Friday and Saturday, is modeled after every talent competition on television today: a panel of celebrity judges will offer feedback to contestants, but the decision on who makes it to the top is in the hands of the audience. And with a cash prize for first place, there are 750 good reasons to come out on top.

"I don't want the kids to be motivated by money, but of course, getting kids from other schools to come here and perform, you have to have something that draws them other than to perform on the Harvey stage," said Borges. "That's kind of the incentive. When you have a school like Frontier giving away $500 prize at their airband competition, you have to amp it up another level."

The success of Frontier's annual airband contest -- where performers lip-synch and mimic playing instruments to pre-recorded music -- inspired Borges to expand on the idea for his own show and include a second category, for live performance.

"We're going to feature top talent from participating Bakersfield area high schools who've won their own school talent shows," said Borges, who announced the competition in February. "My idea was to bring it to our auditorium in the center of town with top winners from each school to compete for a city title."

Featured performers include singers, instrumentalists, dancers, actors, bands and airbands. The airband contest will feature eight performers, and 10 acts are confirmed for the live talent portion. Schools represented at the competition are BHS, Arvin, East, Foothill, Frontier, Independence, Liberty, Mira Monte and Stockdale.

"We're trying to utilize as much current technology so the kids can also help promote the show. We're expecting a full house," said Borges, who said he was reluctant at first to feature lip-synching and faux playing.

"A parent of ours suggested the airband competition. I had mixed feelings about that, because I've never seen an airband, but after going to see Frontier High's airband competition, I saw how the kids really like it because it has all the big song and dance elements. I also had a colleague stop me in the hall way at school and say, 'When I was at Arvin, the airband competition was a big deal for us that weren't necessarily talented, but it was a way for us to be involved too.' I guess I never thought about it that way although I did find out many of the students are actual musicians and experienced live performers."

Friday night, each of the participating groups will get two minutes to display their best performance before a panel of local celebrity judges: musician Monty Byrom, radio personalities Scott Cox and Danny Hill, 2012 Miss Bakersfield Nashay Matthews and Bill Nelson of Nelson Media. Following the show, audience members may vote via phone or text.

"We're fortunate to have some great resources with the Harvey Auditorium to help with staging. We're going all out," said Bakersfield High choir accompanist Alicia Ellsworth, whose son Philip is a member of the school's choir.

On Saturday, all groups will return to perform their full act on stage before a live audience. A final round of voting will begin immediately following the last performance of the evening. After votes have been tallied from both nights, three winners from the combined talent and air band categories will be recognized and awarded prizes. The grand-prize winner will take home a cash award of $750. The evening's top three to five acts will perform an encore at the Kern High School District's Promoting Excellence in Activities and Athletics in Kern award ceremony on May 15 at the Harvey Auditorium.

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