Two talents from Maple Ridge are in the running for stardom, the likes of which befell Michael Buble, a one-time PNE talent show winner.
Out of about 350 B.C. contenders of all ages who submitted videotaped auditions, one young dancer and one professional photographer and musician from this community made the cut.
Now, 12-year-old dancer Erika Bernard and 28-year-old singer and guitarist Matt Kennedy will take their turn on the PNE Star Showdown stage this weekend, as part of the semi-finals.
But this isn’t a first for either of them.
Taking the family
Kennedy is back for what he thinks is his fourth time on the Showdown stage.
“I don’t know why they keep letting me come back,” he chuckled.
As a past winner in the adult division, this former Canadian Idol candidate [he made it to the top 32 in 2005] hopes to take it all the way and be crowned B.C.’s most talented this time around.
“My wife keeps making me send in audition tapes because she wants the free passes to the PNE for our family… and my desire [is] to finally win this thing. I’ve won the adult competition before, but never won the whole thing...I think it’s time,” said the Albion resident, who two years ago gave up teaching at Thomas Haney Secondary to spend more time with his family, focus full-time as a wedding photographer, and pursue his passions as a musician.
“Music is actually part of the reason I am a photographer,” the husband and father of three told The TIMES.
“I see photography and music as almost identical forms of art. I have always been a technically minded person. I was trained as a technology teacher and am a self-proclaimed gadget geek, but I have also always been an artist (even though I can’t draw to save my life) and have seen so many similarities in music and photography,” he said.
“They really are analogies for each other. Photography can be personal, intimate, and an artistic outlet, much like music. Photography can also be a performance art, especially for a wedding photographer... much like music. The recording process of music is exactly the same kind of process as the editing and production process of photography.”
He started playing guitar when he was 14.
“I found my Dad’s electric guitar and cranked his amp to 11. Since then, I’ve loved to play guitar,” he said, noting he also plays bass, drums, and sings – guitar remaining his main instrument.
“I am inspired by music and listen to it as much as I can. I will always be a musician, even though I don’t plan on making a career out of it,” he said.
Since he stepped away from teaching the rock school, guitar building, and song writing at Thomas Haney two years ago, his most common outlet for music now is his Sunday morning performances at NorthRidge Foursquare Church.
This weekend’s Showdown he sees as another fun and exciting opportunity to share the gift he’s been given.
No stranger to PNE
Born and raised in Maple Ridge, Erika is a Grade 7 student at Meadowridge School, who’s returning for her second time in the PNE’s kids semifinals.
She’s been dancing since she was six, and performs various forms of dance, aspiring someday to be on stage with Cirque du Soleil.
While it isn’t surprising that Erika is an avid dancer, given her mother Jennifer is a ballet teacher, the youngster’s accomplishments in her 12 short years are noteable.
“My mom was a ballerina and now she owns a dance studio, so I kind of always have done dance. I have been lucky with all of the great things that dance has done for me. I have been to the National Ballet School of Canada for two summers and this summer I just came home from the Boston Ballet School and I know there is always more to come,” said Erika, who dances six days a week with the aspiration of being on stage.
Erika was recently selected one of only nine Canadians to make it to the finals at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York City. And she was offered a scholarship for a summer program at The Rock School for Dance Education in the States, but had already accepted a position at the Boston Ballet School’s summer program.
“I was also just selected to be apart of Team Canada to go to Germany and represent Canada in an international dance competition,” she said, almost giddy with excitement.
This young girls talents don’t end there, and she’s no stranger to competition, constantly surprising judges with her abilities as both a dancer and a national-level rhythmic gynmast.
So, does she aspire to turn her talents into a full-time career?
“Well, I hope so with either dance or rhythmic gymnastics – that is why I think Cirque du Soleil is for me, cause I can do both and be a performer with them. They are so good at creating exciting and interesting shows and I know I can do that one day,” Erika told The TIMES.
And she sees participation in the Showdown as a step towards that goal.
Is she nervous heading into this weekend’s competition?
“Yup! This is a hard competition because there is so much to choose from and who knows what people like. There are singers, bands, and different performances, so it makes it way more nerve racking because they are all so good. I have heard that hundreds of kids audition and they only pick 10. I am amazed to even get picked for that.”
“I’m excited. Last year, I didn’t know what it was all about the PNE Showdown, but this year I do and I am going to perform my hardest I want to make it to the finals!”
Erika will be dancing a lyrical solo at this weekend’s competition, the same one she submitted on video for her audition.
Going on stage
These two Maple Ridge talents will compete in the semifinals this weekend, vying for the $300 first-place prize in their age category and hoping to earn a spot in the finals where they would duke it out for supremacy and the top $5,000 cash grand prize.
The semifinals and finals are held at 2 p.m. each day (Aug. 18, youth; Aug. 19, kids; Aug. 20, adults; Aug. 21 finals) on the WestJet Concert Stage in Central Park at the Pacific National Exhibition.