‘America’s Got Talent’ auditions attract singers, comedians and a magical bird to Cabazon

Professional magician Leigh Hotz, 60, and his wife, Mamata Hotz, 50, of Mesa, Arizona, were clad in in steampunk-style clothing as they held on to their pet, Merlynn the Magic Cockatiel, and proudly described how the bird was skilled in both card tricks and miniature illusions.

They were among a cacophony of musical, comedy and magic acts practicing in an upstairs conference room at Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa in Cabazon Friday, Nov. 30, preparing to audition for season 14 of popular TV variety show competition “America’s Got Talent.”

  • Comedian Maile Onsaga of Las Vegas is floored to be auditioning for reality TV show “America’s Got Talent” held at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa. She was part of a comedy skit Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Magician Leigh Hotz, 60, and wife, Mamata Hotz, 50, of Mesa, Arizona feature Merlynn the Magic Cockatiel in their card trick and illusions act. They prep to audition for “America’s Got Talent” at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa. Auditions on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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  • Comedian Maile Onsaga of Las Vegas has the giggles before auditioning for reality TV show “America’s Got Talent” at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa. She was part of a comedy act Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • If you got talent, “America’s Got Talent” wants you. Several performers auditioned at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Da’Sani Eagles, 14, for San Bernardino will sing Alicia Keys’ No One during her audition for “America’s Got Talent” at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. A majority of the performers were singer dressed in regular clothes like Eagles. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Kori Shalmy, 12, of Las Vegas jokes with her comedy group before auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Singer Tiffany Manzo, center, is supported by sisters Samantha Collins, left, and Taylor Collins before she auditions with a Christian rock tune, “Hallelujah” for “America’s Got Talent” at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Comedy group Emmy Robinson, 16, from left, Maya Swift, 15, and Hayley Renro, 17, joke before auditions for reality TV show “America’s Got Talent” at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Robinson and Swift live in Las Vegas. Renro lives in Utah. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • About 13, who came with family/friend supporters, were in the holding area by 9 a.m., an hour after doors opened for “America’s Got Talent” auditions held at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Comedian Maile Onsaga of Las Vegas reacts when asked what her talent is before a group audition for reality “America’s Got Talent” at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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For their act, the couple planned to put Merlynn into a small container, squish it to roughly the size of a baseball and stick a small sword through it.

“If it doesn’t work, I’ll have shredded tweet,” Leigh Hotz said.

The couple was among the hundreds expected to audition for the extremely popular TV series, which puts acts of all kinds before a panel of judges.

The auditions at Morongo were just the first step for possible contestants. Those that get selected will get a call back to perform before the show’s judges in Pasadena next year. The show, which has aired on NBC, has included past judges such as Howie Mandel, Simon Cowell, Mel B and Heidi Klum. The judges for season 14 have not yet been announced. After rounds of competition, the ultimate winner gets $1 million and a limited residency in Las Vegas.

In Cabazon, the acts ranged from the simple to the extraordinarily elaborate.

Dushawn Bell, 33, of Banning, spent some time skillfully vocalizing in preparation for his audition. He planned to perform “Run to You,” by Whitney Houston, whom he declared his idol.

“I’ve been singing since I was 3 years old and I love singing; it’s my life,” Bell said.

Strumming his guitar was Richard Finn, 38, of Joshua Tree, who planned to perform his own twist on the jazz standard “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” which has been recorded by acts as diverse as Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Finn said that part of the reason he wanted to get onto the TV variety program was to bring attention to nonprofit Mil-Tree, which serves veterans and active duty military in the Morongo Basin through arts projects and dialogue groups. Finn, an Iraq War veteran, is on the nonprofit’s board.

It was the first time auditions had been held at the casino, said Jason Raff, one of the executive producers of the reality TV talent competition.

Raff described Friday’s event as a bit of an experiment. He said the program typically conducts California auditions in Los Angeles in early February, but showrunners decided to add Morongo as an additional venue. He said while other auditions might draw in thousands, the show was expecting a number in the hundreds to show up at the casino.

Raff said he was hoping someone would walk through the door Friday and do something “completely surprising.”

The executive producer has seen his fair share of extraordinary talent, with such acts as ventriloquist Terry Fator and singer and season 11 winner Grace VanderWaal being among those who have wowed him over the years.

Raff has also seen a lot of unusual things. He recalled one audition where a person stripped down to a Speedo and covered himself with peanut butter.

“I remember that one well because I thought, ‘Oh, God, what if someone has peanut allergies here?’,” he said.

Raff said that getting even one excellent performer from an audition can make the experience worthwhile.

“Some days we’ll see 4,000 people come through the door and most of them will not make it on the show,” Raff said. “But occasionally, someone comes into your room to audition and they start singing or doing whatever their act is, and you just get goosebumps.”

He also had a word of advice for people afraid of auditioning — don’t be.

“If you’ve never auditioned for anything in your life, it should be this show,” he said. “We’re pretty nice, we’ll give you time to do your thing, we’re not going criticize you and plus, if you want to be a performer, you’re going to need experience.”

Performers who couldn’t make it down to Cabazon can still audition for the show by visiting Los Angeles on Feb. 9. More information can be found by visiting americasgottalentauditions.com.

 

 

 

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