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Talent Contests for a Fair, Festival or Event
by Bob Dempsey, Pike County Fair

Here are some important questions I have been asked about how to sponsor a talent contest for a fair or festival. I hope they will be the answers to some of your questions.

How could we promote a talent contest?
I would use local newspapers, radio, music teachers, and dance instructors.

What age bracket should we use?
I would suggest two divisions, 14 years and under for Jr. Division, 15 years to and including 21 years for Sr. Division.
Just a thought, you could also have an open division 22 years and up. This could be used if you needed to fi ll the evening program.

How do I decide on order of appearance?
For a first time talent contest, do not categorize, such as voice, dance, vocal, and/or comics, etc. Leave categories open. To help entertain your audience, DON'T put all dance contestants together, all vocals, etc. Mix them up for a variety.

What about prize?
That would depend on your budget. Kids always love trophies. If possible, I would give trophies and money. It is always good to give all entries a participation ribbon. If your budget is limited contact some businesses to sponsor your prizes.

What do I do about judges?
Always have three judges. One voice, one instrumental, and one dance instructor, if possible. Take the judges to dinner before the contest to give them a chance to get acquainted and to review the judges' sheets. It is advisable to give them mileage reimbursement because you will want them to come from a distance so that they are not familiar with the contestants to be judged.

How much time should be allowed per entry?
Five minutes is the accepted time for presenting each act. Always allow set90 up time for bands and groups, which are large. Set-up time is not considered participation time. If an act runs over fi ve minutes, they are disqualifi ed. Have a TIMER with a stop watch to verify time. Time starts when act starts entertaining.

What do I do when I have too many entries?
Always state in your rules that a process of elimination will preside if numbers warrant it. Use more local judges for this. Qualifi ers will be notifi ed next day.

Can the same person compete as a single entry and then compete in the same division in a group entry?
That should be a decision of your local committee. On the state level they cannot compete against themselves in both divisions.

What if I have a Jr. age contestant and a Sr. age contestant entering an act together?
They must go in the Sr. Division.

Can 1st place winners come back next year?
On the local level, it's best to have them lay out one year before they compete again. On the state level, once they have won their division, they cannot come back to compete to win that division. The Jr. winner can later compete for the Sr. division when age allows.

Could you help with suggestions on Judges' Sheets?
I would suggest a total of 50 points:
COSTUME: 10 points
ADAPTATION: 10 points
ABILITY: 20 points

Some suggestions in general:
Have a good professional sound system, equipped to handle CDs, MP 3s, and iPods. DO NOT ALLOW CASSETTEES, as they are 20-year-old technology and hard to cue. It is wise to have extra microphones and any necessary emergency amplification.
  1. A practice would be helpful, if time allows.
  2. Have an experienced MC to put contestants at ease.
  3. Award Jr. division winners before the Sr. contest begins.
  4. Stage size should be approximately 500 sq. ft. If possible, covered top and backdrop for better voice projection.
  5. Try to supply a dressing room for costume changes and make-up. (A camper, trailer or small tent.)

Two final thoughts:
"A trooper can perform under any condition."
"Your child didn't do anything wrong, the winner did his act better."


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