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Vocalist, dance squad take fair talent show honors

MANATEE — Allie Leydon’s dreams for a shot at country music fame in Nashville got a big boost Sunday as her display of talent took first-place honors at the Manatee County Fair’s annual talent show.

The 14-year-old Manatee High School ninth-grader performed a song she penned, “Nashville Dream,” an ode to her future hopes of success in country music.

“It is just about how much I want to go to Nashville, and how much I will miss Bradenton when I do,” Leydon said.

Leydon was shocked when she heard her name called as winner. She received $100 and an opportunity to record three songs at Howling Studios, owned locally by Del Couch.

“I just couldn’t believe it when I heard my name. Everything kind of stopped,” she said.

Couch, a judge for the show, says Leydon shows real promise. And that endorsement could mean a lot for Leydon, as Couch has connections in the music business — so much so that he votes on the Grammy Awards.

“She has a Taylor Swift sound that is really good,” Couch said.

That was music to Leydon’s ears, as Swift is one of her key musical influences.

“I am so excited to record my songs, it is a dream come true,” Leydon said.

After the show, Leydon was greeted by an ecstatic father.

“I am so proud of her I could cry,” James Leydon said.

Leydon was not the only winner at the talent show, as the Manatee High Swing Team took honors for a dance number called “Candy Man.” After taking the trophy, members of the eight-person team made up of 11th-graders beamed.

Tyler Leppek joined his teammates, Johanna Davila, Jon Kesler, Xander Chawi, Phil Morehouse, Jannine Palmer, Maria Sol Rivera and Chantal Varon, in speaking of the time they put into the routine.

“It’s been a long time coming for us,” Leppek said. “We put in lots of hours.”

Their director, Tess Chawi, smiled, watching her winning crew celebrate. As owner of Bradenton dance studio Sarabay Dance Club, she volunteered her time to coach them through preparing for the talent show.

“They are good friends who worked really hard on this,” Chawi said. “I am very proud.”

Leppek saluted his director, saying her commitment to the team made them a tighter unit.

“She donated her time, her weekends to helping us. I can’t put into words the gratitude I feel toward her,” he said.

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