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.”
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.
Leigh Hotz, 60, and Mamata Hotz, 50, of Mesa Arizona do a card trick with Merlynn the Magic Cockatiel. pic.twitter.com/TGuohLUnMr
— Alex Groves (@AlexDGroves) November 30, 2018
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.
Richard Finn, 38, of Joshua Tree practices his act. He's going to be doing "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" by The Four Seasons, but putting his own twist on it. pic.twitter.com/IeGaKofB6P
— Alex Groves (@AlexDGroves) November 30, 2018
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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