A Showcase of Talent

"Friends Like Me" was performed by Bailey Pierce and Isabelle Langford.

“Friends Like Me” was performed by Bailey Pierce and Isabelle Langford.

The holiday season is a time of giving back. Perhaps that’s what inspired Jake Latts, a 13-year-old preparing for his bar mitzvah, to create a fundraiser that’s a microcosm of “America’s Got Talent.” The impressively successful event, called Louisville’s Got Talent, has quickly become an annual tradition.

“It started out as my bar mitzvah project in 2013,” explains Latts, now 16 and a sophomore in high school. “It’s a talent show that raises money for CenterStage Acting Out. It’s basically a kids’ talent show for people of the Louisville area.”

CenterStage Acting Out is a nonprofit touring children’s theater troupe, which brings live musical theater into schools around Kentucky. “I really wanted to have theater be a part of kids’ lives because I’ve been fortunate enough to have theater be a big part of my life,” Latts says. “It’s something that I’ve always loved.”

Louisville’s Got Talent is already a local tradition and an expected annual event. “We’ve had a huge range of different acts,” Latts asserts. “We’ve had singers, an improv group, even jugglers once. We’ve had ballet and hip-hop dancers, rock bands.” He encourages anyone to audition. “There are definitely a lot of singers,” he says with a smile, “but we love to see diverse acts as well as singers.”

Anyone aged 7 to 18 is eligible to audition. “You go to the CenterStage website and click on the link there. There’s an application form to fill out,” explains Latts. “On January 15, you do 90 seconds of your act, and at the end of the day, we get all the scores together.” After the preliminary round, a talented few will move on to the finals. “The actual event takes place on February 26 at CenterStage,” Latts says.

And the talent aren’t the only stars in the room. “For the first-round judges, our colleagues at CenterStage usually pick people who have expertise in different arts areas,” Latts says. “For the main competition, we usually pick more celebrities.” Last year’s final round judges included presidents, CEOs, artistic directors and executive directors from Louisville’s biggest arts organizations. The Louisville Ballet, Louisville Orchestra, Louisville Youth Choir, Fund for the Arts and WAVE TV were all represented among last year’s final round judges.

“It’s an awesome event to attend,” Latts affirms. “We pick auditioners from around 90 people down to 20, so the talent is usually pretty amazing, pretty entertaining.” Among the winners will be a new award – the Audience Choice Award, where audience members can vote for their favorite act. “It allows for some audience participation,” Latts explains.

Between performing themselves and watching the other acts, young performers have the chance to gain great experience. “We also usually have a professional-level performer come in when the judges are tallying the scores,” Latt asserts. “It’s a great way for young, talented kids to have experience.” Would-be winners are competing for cash prizes along with a great performance opportunity and chances to meet other young performers in the Louisville community.

Latts himself has always been very involved in the event. “I’ve always been a judge in the first round,” he says. “Then last year I was the co-emcee, and this year I’m doing behind-the-scenes stuff.” He’s excited to see the event grow; it raised over $6,000 for CenterStage Acting Out in its first year alone.

“We usually fill the entire house of the CenterStage theater,” Latts says proudly. He’s glad to share his passion for musicals and theater with others through Louisville’s Got Talent. When it comes to the stage and the spotlight, Latts is right at home, and he wants to share that experience with others. “It’s something I’ve loved my whole life.” VT

Louisville’s Got Talent will take place at 7 p.m. on February 26, 2017. To sign up for preliminary auditions on January 17, 2017, visit CenterStage’s website at centerstagejcc.org.