It was standing room only last Thursday night at FitzGerald’s for the finals of “Danza Viva & Wednesday Journal Talent Search 2006.” After 17 competitive events over the past five weeks, four champions were crowned in adult/youth vocal and dance categories.

Elizabeth Healy started the proceedings with her heartfelt rendition of “Let It In.” The 16-year-old from Forest Park had “lost her voice” to laryngitis in the days leading up to finals. She threw herself into the song anyway, unafraid that her voice might betray her. Healy’s gutsy performance won her top honors in Youth Vocals. She hopes to put the $500 in prize money toward a car.

Annie Weinheimer finished a close second to Healy, with her snappy, crowd-pleasing rendition of “Orange Colored Sky.” Weinheimer will take advantage of free dance lessons at Danza Viva. It will be her first lessons since she took ballet at age 4. She also intends to enter more talent contests. “I’ll try a bigger contest next time,” said the confident 11-year-old.

It was no surprise that Aaron Gordon won first place in Adult Vocals. His smooth version of “Never Too Much” more than satisfied the judges. Gordon intends to put his $1,000 prize money in the bank and take his first-ever dance lessons at Danza Viva.

He received strong competition from runner-up, Simone Woods, who had the audience cracking up during her comic lament, “You’d Better Call Tyrone.” Had she won, Woods would have split the prize money between her Grandma, whom she lives with, and a security deposit, so she can move out.

No one received more vocal support from the audience than Christina Meadowcroft. With her legion of fans screaming “Tina,” Meadowcroft took third place with her hand-clapping version of “Son of A Preacher Man.”

Adult Dance was dominated by Mickey D. Smith, Jr. Clad only in striped trousers, the 19-year-old from Milwaukee danced to “I Believe.” Smith announced that he had just been accepted to a summer program with the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York but lacked the funds to pay for this great opportunity. The $1,000 prize he won now makes the trip feasible.

Smith didn’t take to dance until he reached the ripe age of 14. He was looking for an activity that would keep him out of trouble during high school and dance was it. He took ballet and has also studied jazz and African dance as well.

Though he was somewhat constricted by FitzGerald’s smallish stage, Smith still nailed some audience-aweing moves. At one point during his ballet, Smith supported the entire weight of his body on one arm.

After he finishes his course at Alvin Ailey, Smith intends to earn degrees in dance and musical theater. He hopes to open a dance studio in his community someday, where inner-city kids will find an activity that keeps them out of trouble and taps their inner talent.

Jasmine Collins finished second to Smith with her wildly entertaining jazz dance. Collins began the routine dressed like a businessman and finished it wearing an off-the-shoulder gold lame top. One of her props was a newspaper that wasn’t Wednesday Journal.

Keeley Smith was equally strong with her African dance and break-dancing. During intermission, Keeley and her cohorts treated the audience to a series of dance-offs.

Other added attractions included a ballet by One World Dance Theater and a rousing routine by Danza Viva’s Breakdance Performance Workshop.

Finally, in the Youth Dance Finals, Nazariy Blagyy demonstrated his unique hip-hop/gymnastics skills. Wearing a karate jacket and paint-spattered jeans, Blagyy whirled and tumbled about the stage in a furious performance that earned him top prize. His family members screamed in delight when Blagyy was announced as winner.

Marcus Coleman was equally frenetic during his hip-hop routine. He acted out the rap lyrics to his song and finished with his arms folded. Coleman’s exertions won him third place.

Isabella Diaz was impressive in a completely different form, which combined ballet and step-dancing set to Irish music. The step-dancing was exhausting but Diaz, dressed in an emerald ballet outfit, never lost her composure. She was rewarded with the runner-up prize.

So the first “Danza Viva & Wednesday Journal Talent Search 2006” has come to an end, only a few steps from where it all began. Over 200 performers, displaying stunning diversity, entertained audiences and judges alike. If the packed house at FitzGerald’s were any indication, “Talent Search 2007” might be even a greater success. For the time being, though, let’s allow these talented singers and dancers to catch their breath.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.