Contestants perform the opening number to the American Kids talent competition last year in Hooker, Okla. This year’s event starts with registration at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Guymon Community Theater. Courtesy photo
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Its Web site calls it “A Big League of Little Entertainers,” and this Saturday in Guymon, Okla., several local and area youth will take the stage of the Guymon Community Theater hoping to take home the top prize in the local American Kids talent competition.
Coordinator Wendy Keith said she has 21 acts competing this year, and she said Saturday’s event is just the beginning for talented youngsters in the area.
“The kids have to participate in the local competition in order to qualify for the state competition and in order to qualify for the national competition,” she said. “This is the first one.”
The show at GCT will start at 1 p.m., with registration starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“From 9 to 11:30, they have the parents meeting,” Keith said. “After the parents meeting, I teach them an opening number. We’ll break at noon for lunch. They come back in their costumes, and we’ll start the competition at 1. They’ll all be judged, and they’ll get awards.”
Keith said 85 percent of the kids will go on to the state finals May 20-21 in the Bethany, Okla., High School Auditorium. The national competition will take place July 24-27 in the Clay Cooper Theater in Branson, Mo. Performers range in age from 3 to 18, and Keith said 19-year-olds can compete too if they are still in high school.
She said American Kids is a non-profit educational organization that offers opportunities many school systems don’t.
“A lot of times they don’t have funding for their music programs or their band programs or their performing arts,” she said. “This kind of gives the kids a peer group to hang around with and people that share their own interests.”
Keith herself said she has benefited from the organization, having participated in competitions.
“Growing up with American Kids gave me an opportunity to have people that shared the same interest as me,” she said. “I have friends still to this day that have been my friends since I was 7 years old that are from this organization. We had a reunion this year in Oklahoma City. There was about 500 people that showed up. It’s so family-orientated.”
And Keith said American Kids gets everyone, not just the youth, involved.
“We pull our volunteers from the parents, like my green room attendant, my door person, my help with registration,” she said. “They’ll all be parents that participate with the program.”
Scholarships are available for high school seniors through competitions such as Saturday’s.
“They do gold with honors, and then gold, silver, and they have participation medal that everybody gets,” Keith said. “Just because you’re the only person in your category doesn’t mean that you automatically get first place. You have to score within the gold with honors.”
Keith said overall winners are not chosen at the local or state level, but they are at nationals.
“You compete in the first round,” she said. “They take the top 25, and they have an all-star show. When they’re done, the person that scores the highest on that wins $1,500. You compete with every state there. They do get a little bit of prize money, but the prize money is based on how many entries there are. If there’s more entries, the prize money is higher.”
Outside of competitions, Keith said the youth in American Kids participate in many events throughout the year.
“We did the Lions Club last year,” she said. “We had some performers for the Christmas parade here and in Guymon and Hooker. We do the Hooker Car Show. We helped with the Epic billboard launch.”
There are a wide variety of talents showcased through events like Saturday’s.
“We’re open to singers, dancers, just about anything else that you could possibly imagine,” Keith said. “They do popular vocal, serious vocal, theater vocal, country and gospel. They have dance. All types of dancers compete against each other. They have a novelty category for karate, gymnastics, jump roping, mime, juggling, comedy.”
The event is likewise divided into age groups, according to Keith.
“It’s 3-5, 6-9, 10-13, 13-15 and 15 and up,” she said. “We want the kids to be in their peer group.”
Keith said many prior contestants were asked why they enjoyed American Kids so much, and most responded that they liked the atmosphere of the competition.
“Because of the friends that you make and everyone feels like family,” she said. “The friends that you make turn into family.”
Keith said even the judges are family-friendly, as they are told to keep critiques positive.
“It’s about the kids,” she said. “We want the kids to have a good time. We want them to be successful. We just teach them to get over their fears. Stage fright can be a lot of places in your life, but not necessarily as a stage.”
The Guymon event will also feature kids from Kansas and Texas in addition to Oklahoma, and Keith said kids can participate in any local competition they want.
“This is actually the birthplace of American Kids, and it was because we were so close to Kansas and Texas,” she said. “We have a lot of roots here.”