Apollo Talent Show Extravaganza provides fun, friendly platform for performers
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Cari Parkinson remembers how it felt to be shy, and unsure of herself.
But that changed when she decided to step outside of her comfort zone — in a big way.
Imagine not only entering the Apollo Talent Show Extravaganza, but also winning it.
“In 2014, I competed and won the whole thing by singing ‘Colors of the Wind.’ But after you win, you can’t compete again, so I just kept coming back to help out backstage,” she said.
Not bad for previously only having been in productions of “Hello Dolly” and “Oklahoma,” she said.
She credits divine intervention of sorts for what happened next, and how she came to lead the annual talent show.
When event founder Dorothy Crawford decided it was time to step down, she mentioned it to another dedicated volunteer, Val Stevens.
“They both prayed about it and both came back separately with my name. So I remember thinking, ‘OK God I can take the hint here,’” she said with a laugh.
Now she’s “pretty comfortable” performing on stage, and sees the talent show as a way to help others share this experience.
And it’s nearly time for that to happen again, she said.
Fourteen performers, who were chosen after auditioning for the show, will be featured Saturday, Feb. 23 at the 15th Annual Apollo Talent Show Extravaganza.
The contestants include several singers, comedians, musicians and a band.
They will be competing for a top prize of $250 cash and Apollo season tickets, she said. Top category winners, such as top male and female vocalist, will also receive season theater tickets.
“We also have some non-competing skits that will be in the middle of the competition to add energy to the event and help keep it light. So my sister Faith and I will be doing that,” she said.
“And during the judging we will also have some other entertainment, including a couple who is going to do some swing dancing,” she said.
Donnie Hawkins, a Ranson, W.Va. teenager who won the competition last year, will also be performing again, and that’s a big deal, she said.
“He’s been a victim of bullying so his act was all about accepting yourself as you are,” she said.
“During his performance he talked to the audience, asking anyone who’d ever been bullied to stand up and it was very powerful. He just really got the audience into it.”
Parkinson added, “I have been involved with this show for five years and had never heard an audience react that loudly.”
Hawkins will perform as the judges tally their scores.
Performers often return because they like the warm, community-feeling of the event, she said.
“It’s not like other talent competitions where it is all about being the loudest person up there,” she explained.
“I’ve had people say they didn’t even know there were prizes. They were there simply to share their talent and have their moment in the spotlight, but also enjoying seeing others do the same thing,” she said.
It can be a liberating experience in many ways, she said.
“I’ve had people who struggled with anxiety, they struggled with stage fright but they were there to help better themselves,” Parkinson said. “And they can do it being in front of family and friends which is what our show is all about.”
She is still benefitting personally from this involvement, too.
“One of the reasons I agreed to take over is that I’ve always been shy, so I thought this might help me to come out of my shell more. And boy did it ever,” she said.
There’s plenty of community support for the event, and it’s not unusual to have about 300 people in the audience, she said.
That matters because it’s an important fundraiser for the theater, she added.
“Ultimately it’s about the spirit of the people who are in the show, and the people who come to see it. We are volunteers doing this because we care about our local nonprofit theater,” Parkinson said.
“I would recommend getting your tickets online because there have been times when the line has been out the door,” she said.
Top photo: Cari Parkinson, director of the Apollo Talent Show Extravaganza, celebrates a successful 2018 show. Parkinson won the competition herself in 2014 by singing ‘Colors of the Wind.’ (Submitted photo)