By Michael Leavy and Kevin Coughlin
If anyone knows about blockbuster sequels, it’s Tara Bernie, who has covered plenty of them as senior producer for Access Hollywood.
Now, she gets to be the blockbuster sequel.
In February, the Morristown resident will reprise her role as emcee of Morristown’s Got Talent, the competition that raises funds for programs in the Morris School District.
Bernie’s performance last winter proved such a tough act to follow that the Morris Educational Foundation decided she was the only one who could pull it off–and she couldn’t be happier.
“I’m ecstatic to be back as master of ceremonies of this year’s Morristown’s Got Talent. I had a blast last year and can’t wait to introduce everyone to this year’s finalists,” Bernie said.
Some 72 acts signed up for last week’s auditions at Morristown High School. Sixteen will make the cut and vie for $2,500 in cash prizes at the Mayo Performing Arts Center on Feb. 25, 2015.
Year eight of the show will feature some new twists. A pair of $1,000 prizes will be awarded– one for age 18 and under, the other for 19 and over. And the audience will vote via text message for its own favorite, who will pocket $500.
Bernie has not been sitting idly since last year’s competition, either. She and Access Hollywood were nominated for Emmy awards.
Her list of interview subjects includes Brad Pitt, Pharell, Reese Witherspoon, Jamie Foxx, Carrie Underwood, Bradley Cooper, Barbara Walters, Jerry Seinfeld and Meghan Trainor, among others.
With her exposure to all that star power, one would think that Bernie is not easily impressed. But she said she was floored by the MEF’s tenacity and creativity in making Morristown’s Got Talent a success.
In its first year, the show raised about $15,000. Last winter’s edition brought in some $70,000 for school programs.
“We’re always trying to raise more money for our schools,” said Debbie Sontupe, executive director of the MEF.
“We think the foundation of the show is solid and it’s always a great night for the Morristown community, but every year we feel committed to bring a new thing to keep the audience engaged so we are having the audience choice to keep it fresh,” Sontupe added.
At the same time, the organizers are keen on sticking with the tried-and-true: Tara Bernie and her red-carpet interviews.
Kim Pistner, chair of the MEF talent show committee, said more bands tried out than in prior years; a comedian auditioned, too.
Many hopefuls come back year after year, Pistner noted.
“Some of our people we’ve seen for the last four or five years…..It’s nice to know that people are bound and determined to get in the show.”
One of the returnees was 11-year-old Sydney Familo, who sang Mean by Taylor Swift on Saturday. She was not discouraged when she was not chosen for last February’s competition.
“It’s better to try again,” Familo said.
There was plenty of nervous energy on stage among first-timers.
Isabella Petiucca, 11, admitted to some butterflies before launching into Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri.
Tara Bernie, who has two daughters of her own, said she appreciates what all these aspiring stars are experiencing.
“I learned last year that these contestants really put themselves out there in front of their community and peers. It means so much to them,” she said.
“It really warms my heart and soul, so I want to make them feel comfortable and confident when they walk out on that stage. I also want to keep the show moving and keep the audience as engaged as possible.”
So, if you thought Morristown’s Got Talent was something last winter…
“Wait until you see this year!” Bernie promised.
Tickets for the eighth edition of Morristown’s Got Talent! go on sale early in the new year.