DECATUR - Candy Sims is willing to bet Decatur has talent to spare.
She's the driving force behind "Decatur's Got Talent," which begins live audition shows Saturday at the Decatur Civic Center, and she wants to prove her town is not only skilled but eclectic as well.
"I watch the show ‘America's Got Talent' and I thought it would be great to see it in Decatur on a smaller scale," said Sims, the center's box office manager. "We're looking for the most passionate 24 contestants to compete for the cash prize and a chance to perform at next year's Decatur Celebration."
The agreement with Celebration administrators is already in place. The winner of "Decatur's Got Talent" will receive guaranteed playing time and exposure during Celebration for whatever kind of act it chooses, in addition to $350 in first place cash and a prize pack of theater tickets.
The competition won't be easy, however. The "Got Talent" format is being adopted in practice as well as in name. A trio of local judges will rate the performers, with only half moving on from the audition shows Saturday and Oct. 23 to the finals show Nov. 5. Boxes with large "X" marks can be used by the judges to "buzz" contestants who don't wow the audience, even if they are only partially finished with an act.
Tickets will be sold for each individual audition show and also in a three-pack that will cover both auditions and the finals. It will be up to audiences to decide if the harsher audition rounds or the more polished final show will be the more entertaining.
"The judges will be using a scoring system that takes into account appearance, performance and creativity of the performers," Sims said. "Audience voting at all three shows will determine the last 20 percent. Each of the auditions will have all different acts, so each show is different. There's even a different emcee each night, and a cash bar."
A priority for Sims was finding acts that went beyond typical talent show or "American Idol" performers.
"It's open to everyone from ages 5 to 105, and we have some acts close to those cutoffs," she said. "The other day, we had a mom come in to sign up her little 6-year-old son; he's a hip-hop dancer. He's going to be auditioning for the real ‘America's Got Talent' in a few weeks as well."
Other confirmed acts include a trio of 11-year-old singers, a saxophone performer and an aspiring rapper.
Joy Clark, perhaps better known in Decatur by her stage name Joy Joy, is just one performer eager for a chance to capture both the competition prize money and the chance to perform at Celebration. The rapper, singer and songwriter was the winner of HOT 105.5's "Home Heat Battle," getting her song "Dream Chaser" into regular radio circulation in Central Illinois. At "Decatur's Got Talent," she plans to perform another original song, "Freedom Bells."
"That song is a personal story told in a combo of neo-soul and hip-hop," Clark said "A music dream should be something you have a passion for but are also realistic about. You have to stay optimistic. Dreams don't always seem close, but they are achievable if you want it bad enough."