The acts ranged from a vocal performance of Fly Me to the Moon to a rapper spitting rhymes for an original song called Fly Away. One contestant played a Chopin waltz on piano while another did a dance routine to Bottle Pop by the Pussycat Dolls.
No, this was not the line-up for the upcoming season of America’s Got Talent, but rather the third annual Special Needs Talent Showcase. Presented by the nonprofit Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN), the talent show took place at the Santa Clara Convention Center Theater on Saturday, March 18.
Anna Wang, event chair and vice president of FCSN, co-founded the nonprofit in 1996 with nine other Chinese-American families, when her then three-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. Today, FCSN has grown to serve more than 1,000 multi-ethnic families with children and adults with special needs through a number of programs in the East Bay and South Bay.
Wang said her group came up with the idea of a talent competition to showcase the special talents–rather than the special needs–of the community they serve. “Rarely do they have anyone recognizing them for their ability,” she said. “Rather, they’re judged for their ‘dis’ ability, judged by a measuring stick of what we consider to be ‘normal’ and ‘appropriate.’”
With each annual event, Wang said FCSN highlights the abilities of the special needs community, increasing awareness across the state, and hoping to spread the message to national and global audiences.
In late January, preliminary auditions drew over 80 contestants. Saturday’s showcase featured 11 finalists who competed for three top spots that included a cash award of $500, and a professionally produced performance video.
This year’s top spots went to Music Band Camp for their thunderous rendition of the Hawaii Five-O theme song; Max Chan a 16-year-old student at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, who played the piano; and Govinda Rangan a 15-year-old from Pleasanton, who played the mridangam, a traditional South Indian drum.
At the end of the night, surrounded by his family and proud grandparents from Sunnyvale, Rangan said he was inspired to enter the competition after watching last season’s America’s Got Talent and seeing Laura Bretan, a 13-year-old opera singer, advance to the finals when she got the Golden Buzzer.
Since February, Rangan has been practicing six hours a day with two separate instructors. With his spirit of commitment and dedication, there’s no doubt that he will find a way to make sure his future dreams take flight. “I want to be a pilot,” the Tilden Prep student admitted, naming the 838 as the aircraft he’d like to fly one day.