OBX Got Talent — yes it does!

Published 1:20 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2024

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The first round of OBX Got Talent concluded at the Pioneer Theater, narrowing the pool from 10 gifted contestants down to five.

The local spinoff of America’s Got Talent was imagined by Pioneer Theater co-owners, brother and sister Michael Basnight and Jamie Hatchell, as soon as they purchased the historic venue last spring. The owners said they wanted to provide some entertainment for the local community during the quieter winter months.

In mid-January, tryouts were held in front of panel of judges involved in the music industry, with the top 10 acts advancing to round one.

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Judges Cory Hemilright, founder of the annual Bluegrass Island Music Festival; Brad and Rebecca Meyers, founders of the VUSIC OBX Summer Concert Series; and country music singer Caroline Owens, who joined virtually from Nashville, provided helpful feedback after each performance on January 27, 2024.

Starting off the afternoon were Josh and Molly Simpson, two high school siblings who performed “Stubborn Love” by the Lumineers. Josh played the guitar — which he said he learned to play during the COVID-19 pandemic — while Molly sang. The judges complimented them on their stage presence and comfort on stage.

Next, Manteo High School freshman Heidi Erickson sang “Reflection,” a lovely sweet song from the movie Mulan, receiving positive feedback from the judges. “I didn’t realize I was in Manteo,” said Brad. “I thought I was at Disney for a minute there.”

The third performance was Jillian LaCount from Wanchese, who said she started singing in church, and she’s loved music ever since. Jillian sang “Bring on the Rain.”

Grace Waters of Currituck performed next, putting it all out there with a creative rendition of “The Dock of the Bay.” Judges enjoyed her number, but offered feedback on her timing and pitch issues. Rebecca described the performance as “funky and fun” and noted Grace’s sultry voice.

The audience went wild for Manteo High School senior Hope Dehart’s version of “Stick Season” by Noah Kahan, a weighty emotional song that was contrasted by her sweet disposition and pretty smile. “The crowd response says everything,” said Cory Hemilright. Caroline Owens noted Hope’s stage presence: “Even if you weren’t comfortable on stage, you looked comfortable and that’s what matters.”

“That was incredible. Really, really, really good,” said Brad Myers to Hope. “You gritted your teeth and you just took off from there.”

Next up was Heidi Velazquez, singing an original song called “Survey Song” that she wrote in response to a survey that her then-boyfriend-now-husband gave her years ago. “I love your voice,” said Cory. “I wanted to keep listening to more.”

To the surprise of everyone in the audience, NBC’s “The Voice” winner Huntley dropped by to encourage participants and greet the crowd before his concert later that evening.

Shane Thomas of Manteo followed up with the seventh performance of the afternoon, playing guitar and singing Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” Brad said Shane was better than Springsteen, and Cory said the song made him “want to have a drink and listen more.”

Song number eight featured a young Kill Devil Hills couple, Samantha Pugh on vocals and Nikoli Novgrod playing the banjo to “Before He Cheats.” This was Nikoli’s second time on a stage — the first time being at tryouts a few weeks before. “You have a passion for this — stick with it,” said Rebecca Myers.

Manteo local Suzy Wescott Overman entertained the crowd with an energetic rendition of “Ex’s and Oh’s” in her black fringe boots. “You had them going at the beginning, middle, and the end of the song,” Caroline Owens said to Suzy after her performance.

The final performance of the afternoon was Kathy Postlewait, who said she has been a music lover all her life, and has written hundreds of songs. Caroline said Kathy’s selection “The Last Thing On My Mind,” took her back in time and brought tears to her eyes.

Judges departed to discuss their scores and select the finalists. After a 15-minute intermission, the judges requested another song from Grace Waters, Suzy Wescott Overman, and Heidi Velazquez, who performed “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, “Cheap Thrills” by Sia, and “Ghost” by Justin Bieber, respectively.

The evening concluded with the announcement of the five finalists who will go on to round two on Saturday, February 24: Josh and Molly Simpson, Hope Dehart, Grace Waters, Heidi Velazquez, and Kathy Postlewait.

Michael Basnight said he is “beyond excited and impressed” with the results of the first event, both in talent turnout and supporters. “There is so much to look forward to with OBX Got Talent as we move into the remaining rounds of the competition.”

The final three will perform on March 30, when the winner of OBX Got Talent will be announced. Basnight encouraged the community to come out to hear the top five in round two.

“First, there are a lot of really talented folks in the competition,” he said. “There is also the fun you’re sure to have, as so many locals are coming together to cheer on the contestants. Guess what? We now have something to do in the winter along the Outer Banks!”