OBX Got Talent searching for ‘that hidden gem’

Published 2:30 pm Saturday, January 6, 2024

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By Summer Stevens and Rose Thornton, Manteo High School sophomore

The Pioneer Theater owners are searching for fresh, undiscovered musical talent for the very first OBX Got Talent, an ongoing talent show that begins mid-January and concludes in March.

Singers, songwriters and musicians of all kinds are encouraged to register online and then come on out to the downtown Manteo theater January 13 at 10 a.m. for private tryouts. Performers have two minutes to showcase their talents before a panel of judges only; those selected will perform for the public at The Pioneer Theater for Round 1 on January 27 at 7 p.m.

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Contestants who make it to Round 2 will perform on February 24. The OBX Got Talent finale, featuring the top performers selected by the judges, is set for March 30.

The Pioneer Team is working on logistics with area promoters to allow the winner an opportunity to be on stage at Festival Island Park in 2024.

“How cool would it be to go from your garage in Colington playing guitar and singing to yourself on karaoke to the Pioneer Theater stage which is historic, then a few months later the opportunity to go singing as the bluegrass opener or something for VUSIC?” asked Pioneer Theater managing partner Michael Basnight. “That would be pretty cool.”

Basnight said the idea to do a local spinoff of America’s Got Talent came up in a conversation with his sister shortly after they purchased the theater this spring.

“We started talking about how the Pioneer could be a year-round attraction for these types of events because it does slow in the winter. As we were discussing back and forth ideas, a talent show concept came to mind because it’s typically just us—it’s the locals—so why not have fun with your Pioneer Theater? And there’s thankfully a resurgence in music and talent that’s happening along the Outer Banks, so you can’t ignore that either,” he said.

According to the theater owner, the Outer Banks used to be a hub for musical talent way back before Interstate 95 was constructed, when the beach was the main route south. Musicians traveling from Washington or Richmond could easily pass through this area on their way to Greenville or Raleigh, or down to Wilmington.

“When I was in high school and college we had a lot of music venues along the beach that have now been replaced with condominiums and other hotels … That’s where Dave Matthews was playing, Hootie and the Blowfish, Darius Rucker—way before they were famous they were coming up and down the beach kind of trying to become famous. We were lucky enough to see them before they were, you know, international superstars. Those venues went away, but what you’re seeing now is a resurgence of venues.”

On Roanoke Island alone, there are nine venues where live music can be played in the summer.

“It’s starting to happen again where you’re seeing up and down the beach, Jack Brown’s, for example outside,” Basnight added. “You’re seeing fantastic opportunities for musicians to perform.”

And Basnight believes that Outer Bankers just might have more than their share of creative talent. (Though it’s quite possible the Manteo native is biased.)

“Whether it’s the creative or the entrepreneurial or the business perspective, there’s a survivability you have to have to live and sustain life here on the Outer Banks year-round, particularly if you think going back generation after generation after generation,” he said. “But I think because we’re surrounded by so much beauty in constant change with the ocean, there’s magic here.”

The organizers of OBX Got Talent are hoping to gather some of that creative magic of local folks, but with a distinct emphasis on the hidden or undiscovered talent.

Basnight was clear that he’s not looking for a battle-of-the-bands-type event. He’s looking for the “hidden gem”—the person wowing friends during karaoke night, or the backup drummer of a local band, or the guys that have been playing in the garage for a few years or maybe at a local pizza place.

“The goal is to find them and to give that platform to someone who has talent and hasn’t figured out how to get out and express that. Or maybe he’s a little bit shy. So start here at the Pioneer because it’s familiar to all of us,” he said. “I’m just hoping that people can feel confident and brave and step out there and try.”

Several confirmed judges are Bluegrass singer Caroline Owens, Bluegrass Island Music Festival organizer Cory Hemilright, and Pioneer Theater co-owner Jamie Hatchell. The atmosphere of the event will encouraging, Basnight assured. Judges will be fair and honest, and will offer helpful feedback to participants with the goal of improving and advancing through the rounds of the competition.

Judges will be looking for skill level, coachability and what Basnight called “believability”—confidence, enthusiasm and stage presence.

Tryouts and entrance to OBX Got Talent are free for performers. Participants under 18 are welcome with a parent or guardian present. The public is invited to cheer on performers for $5 at the door. For more information, visit thepioneertheater.com.