Southwest Florida's Got Talent finds its first five finalists

Singing and songwriting were goals on Alan Bradford’s bucket list, but winning a talent show was not.

Judges at the Lee County edition of the “Southwest Florida’s Got Talent” competition chose him to be one of the five finalists who will move on to a grand finale event in September, after Bradford performed an original and soulful ballad he wrote about the homeless.

He didn’t expect to make it to the finals.

“I was glad it went that way,” he said. “I think there could have been 10 people to go to the finals.”

Bradford, of Fort Myers, was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2003, and for about three years all he could do was rest and take medication. After contemplating his life on what he thought would be his death bed, Bradford realized he wanted to make music a more serious part of who he was.

He vowed to write, perform and produce songs for a CD, and he kept his word. In 2008, Bradford recorded and released his tracks without the help of a record label.

“I wanted to eliminate any more regrets in my life. Could I, and would I have done this when I was 25? Probably. But I didn’t,” he said.

To promote his music, Bradford performs original songs at coffee shops, but this month, he broke from his routine and entered “Southwest Florida’s Got Talent” competition at the behest of his daughter and fellow competitor, Meagan.

“All I had to do was mention it to (her),” he said.

The Bradfords signed up as individuals, not as a father-daughter duo. They joined 17 other hopefuls for a chance to become one of the five finalists to go to the next round. Bradford made it, but Meagan did not.

“They’ll compete against five winners from Collier County. Then there will be three overall winners of those final ten who will win cash-prizes and promotions,” said Connie Ramos-Williams, whose public relations firm partnered with the Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to organize the talent competition.

The overall contest is modeled after reality TV shows such as “American Idol” and its namesake “America’s Got Talent.” Each of the three talent events in the competition will have a panel of local celebrity judges. The Lee County edition’s panel of four judges included Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson and his chief of police, Doug Baker.

Some well-known local celebrities were also among the group of contestants, which showcased a variety of abilities and ages from the Lee County area — from child singers who moonwalked to Michael Jackson music to an over-45 dance women’s dance troupe known as “Hot Flashz.”

When he performed, Fort Myers Beach Town Manager, Terry Stewart, joked that at age 62 he was probably the oldest person in the competition. He downplayed his musical ability before he sang “My Confession” by Josh Groban and surprised the judges with his hardy voice.

“Terry, I don’t care how old you are, you’re still a stud,” Baker said after Stewart’s performance.

Stewart, who claims he sings his 15-year-old daughter to sleep every night, used to perform in community theater productions before moving to Southwest Florida. The talent show was a way for him to sing in public without quitting his day job.

“I just had a great time. I love doing this,” Stewart said.

WINK News reporter Haley Hinds has been singing since her mother gave her Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” on video tape. Hinds signed up for the talent show after one of her friends suggested she try it.

“Everybody knows that I enjoy singing a little too much,” she said.

Hinds was the second person of the night to cover Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’, ” — a young boy wowed judges when he sang it earlier — but her powerful rendition swayed the judges anyway.

Stewart and Hinds made it to the finals will be joining Bradford in the grand finale event.

A candidate for Lee County Judge Group Three, David Shestokas, managed to infuse his campaign into his performance of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” While Shestokas strummed his guitar and sang, two volunteers stood behind him and held one of his unfurled election campaign banners.

“I love the shameless self-promotion,” Pam Cronin, contest judge and co-owner of the Shell Factory in North Fort Myers, said during her critique.

But despite Cronin’s praise, Shestokas did not make it to the finals. He hopes to win the election, though. “That’s the plan,” Shestokas said.

Bradford’s goal in the grand finale isn’t to win. He just wants people to hear his music.

He plans to play another one of his original songs. Bradford said he’s got plenty to choose from because his songs are inspired by personal experience.

“I lived it to be able to write it,” Bradford said.

© 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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