In Bradenton, seniors charm audience at talent show open auditions

BRADENTON -- Sara Ann Butler moved with pizazz across the stage Friday at Renaissance on 9th. Her black-and-silver sequined blouse glittered under the bright lights.

During her performance of Roland Gresham's version of "Wade in the Water," the 75-year-old delighted the audience with her hip-swinging and scat singing.

"Ba ba di da, pa di da!" Butler sang, her right hand raising slightly.

She even changed some of the lyrics to say that the waters of Florida are God's place.

Butler, who received a rousing applause, was one of over 20 55+ seniors who auditioned for the Bright House Networks "Bright Stars Senior Talent Show." It was the first step in a larger talent competition from each region in the Bright House Networks system, which includes Manatee, Pinellas, Hillsborough counties and others.

Four judges sat at a long table by the front of the room to tally each contestant on stage presence, their connection with the audience, originality and talent.

Butler, of St. Petersburg, shared her reason for trying out.

"Because I have served people so long, that it's time for me to get up and have some joy -- and express some joy," she said with a smile.

Butler said she doesn't judge herself when she performs. She just does it.

"It gives me a wonderful feeling to say that the waters of Florida are God's place 'cause I've met so many kind and compassionate people here," she said.

By the end of the day, 10 finalists were chosen: Bill Bartlett, 64, singer; John Brady, 80, harmonica player; Sara Ann Butler, 75, singer; Jerry Gerard Carpinelli, 90, singer/guitar player; Gilbert "Gil" Dubray, 86, singer; Alan Linn, 80, comedian; Frank Nobles, 81, singer; Dorothy Simmons, 78, singer and Tony Vin, 94, singer.

They will advance to the Manatee Regional Talent Show at 2 p.m. Feb. 22 at Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida Bradenton, 5840 26th St. W. Tickets are on sale for $6 at Renaissance on 9th and the day of the show, with proceeds benefiting Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee.

From there, the number of contestants will be wittled down until a final group compete again on April 8 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

The final winner will receive $500 and $500 to donate to a charity of their choice.

While most contestants sang, Bradenton resident Bob Weintraub opted for some stand-up comedy, poking fun at salesmen (his career before retirement) and the English language.

"I get upset with all these words and letters that are used to note a simple thing," the 86-year-old said. "The word 'tonight'... why is there a 'ght' in the end?"

After 58-year-old Pat Richardson performed Diana Ross' "It's My Turn," her son Emmanuel Avraham stood up and cheered loudly for his mom.

"I love you mom!" the 25-year-old entertainer yelled. "You did it!"

Moved, the audience watched as mother and son hugged. Richardson said her son inspired her to audition.

"He kept telling me I can do it and so I decided that, yes, I can do it -- and it was my turn," she said.

Avraham, who choked up during his mother's performance, said he's been encouraging her to sing for some time.

"Now I want to help encourage her to go for her dreams," he said, "just like she did the same for me."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.