A virtual competition gave military kids the opportunity to show off their talents in the wake of ongoing closures and cancellations from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation hosted an inaugural talent contest that allowed military kids "a chance to have fun sharing their special talents," Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, stated in a press release. Military kids from across the country submitted recordings of performances including solo and group vocal performances, dance performances, and comedy.
Organizers of the event say the idea came after sourcing input from caregivers.
"A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, we decided to survey our community of military caregivers to see what it was they needed during this time," Austin Courtney, Director of Communications for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, said.
At the top of list of needs was personal protective equipment, but the foundation was surprised by what came next according to the survey results.
"We found our community was looking for ways to keep spirits up, to keep their families entertained; they said they needed something to look forward to," Courtney said.
The foundation took that feedback and got to work, coming up with "Military Kids Have Talent" — a spin on the popular TV show.
"In the midst of COVID-19, so many special moments have been canceled — from dance recitals, school concerts and sporting events to graduation ceremonies, celebrations and other major milestones. Our kids have been going through an especially tough time, so we wanted to create this opportunity for them to share their talents virtually," Courtney said.
The foundation began accepting video talent submissions earlier this year, receiving more than 200 videos from nearly all 50 states. And the talents featured in those videos were just about as diverse. In addition to singers, dancers and pianists, the group had wide variety of unique submissions.
"We had stand-up comedians, puppeteers, actors performing monologues, harmonica players, artists who created wonderful paintings on video, even a young chef showing off his cooking skills," Courtney explained.
The foundation narrowed those submissions down to 36 amongst five age categories and produced a special episode featuring actor Jocko Sims as the host of the online event.
After the episode went live, friends, family and fans had two weeks to vote via text for their favorite talent. Voting Winners were selected in five age categories.
"It brought people together virtually in these times when we can't be together in person," Courtney said.
That was the case for Addyson Tabankin of Clifton Hills, New York. The 10-year-old pianist, who's been playing for five years, won her age group.
"I like playing songs from movies and musicals," Addyson said.
Addyson's dad is deployed to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and has been away from home since January.
"Normally, during a deployment, we're able to get out and do things to help make the time pass, but COVID-19 has made that tough," Addyson's mom, Jenn, said.
But because the talent competition was virtual, dad watched Addyson perform, despite being more than 6,000 miles from home.
"I think it's really great that they took this opportunity to acknowledge the kids, and who are probably having a harder time than usual during this pandemic," she added.
Kormeri Sohui Jones, 8, of Enterprise, Ala., played the piano in the competition. (Military Families)
For Kormeri Sohui Jones, 8, of Enterprise, Alabama, much of the draw was the opportunity to compete.
Despite only playing the piano for eight months, Kormeri has already entered state and local piano competitions.
"She's a competitor, she's got that competitive spirit, and when I saw there was going to be a military kids talent contest, I thought it was fitting that she at least try it," Kormeri's dad, Willie, a retired Army military police officer said.
Kormeri admits she prefers performing and competing over practicing, and plans to enter the contest again.
"It was a stiff competition, and all I want to say is good luck next year!"
Additional age category winners included:
Wyatt, Shane, Luke, Heidi Winchester (6 and under) – Fayetteville, North Carolina (dance)
Raegan Lawson (12-14) – Greenwood, Indiana (singing)
Cameron Davis (15-18) – Jacksonville, North Carolina (singing)
While nothing is concrete, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation hopes this is the first of many future "Military Kids Have Talent" contests.
"The foundation will do everything it can to do this again next year. We saw how much joy it brought to these kids. And it brought so much joy to us, to be able to give kids a reason to smile right now," Courtney said.
However, even if the world is in a place where gathering together is safe, an in-person talent competition still may not be practical.
"Military kids live all over the world, and we want as many kids as possible to participate, so we see this event remaining virtual."
Follow the Elizabeth Dole Foundation on Facebook for information on resources and future events.