An area duo has been named the winner of The Sentinel’s inaugural online talent contest, sponsored by Reality Check.
Paul Kohler and Julio Del Sesto, known as Life on Venus, took first place with their rendition of “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers.
The five finalists were winnowed by more than 1,300 votes from the public from 19 entries submitted in the “Monadnock’s Got Talent” contest. The other four finalists were Christy Wendlandt and Brendon Thomas; Shane Rediker; Gavin Key; and Mulligan Row, featuring Ruth Blais Thompson, Dominick Tralli and Wayne Imon.
The judges were JoAnne Mead, a local vocal instructor, soprano soloist and music director; Vicky Pittman, school liaison with Franklin Elementary School in Keene and other schools in the region for the Metropolitan Opera House education programs and creator of “Opera to Go”; Kristen Leach, artistic director of the N.H. Dance Institute and a local dance/theater educator; and Nicole Colson, a freelance writer who contributes to magazines including the arts and entertainment section of The Sentinel’s weekly publication, “ELF.” They judged based on overall performance, technique, stage presence, originality and audience engagement. The judges scored each performer on a scale of one to 10 per category, for a maximum of 50 points.
The judges gave fifth place to finalist Shane Rediker, a 13-year-old student at Monadnock Regional Middle/High School. Rediker, who’s been playing the piano for 4½ years, dedicated his rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance” to the class of 2020, whose graduation ceremonies were disrupted by COVID-19. He said, “I wanted them to know that even though they weren’t graduating at that time that many people were still thinking about them.”
Recent Keene High School graduate Gavin Key placed fourth with his rendition of “Mama, You Been on My Mind” by Bob Dylan. Key said he picked the song because he’s “a massive Bob Dylan fan and the song just hit [him] in the feels.” He added that the lyrics are “outstanding and timeless.” Key began performing in front of an audience just this past year, when he started a Grateful Dead cover band with his friends called Kendall Row.
Coming in third place was Mulligan Row with their original song titled “What Has Meaning?” The band consists of Ruth Blais Thompson, 58, Dominick Tralli, 64, and Wayne Imon, 63. The trio first met through Monadnock Ukulele at the Dublin Community Center. “We found ourselves writing songs right away, then realized within 6 months’ time it would be fun to perform and share our music,” Thompson said.
The runners-up were Christy Wendlandt and Brendon Thomas with their cover of “Wherever is Your Heart” by Brandi Carlile. The couple first sang together at Thomas’ recording studio, Owl Sounds Recording. It was their second date, according to Wendlandt. “In our relationship, our biggest arguments are usually over which harmony to sing,” Wendlandt said.
The winners, Del Sesto and Kohler, have been playing together as Life on Venus since 2012 and have written their own alternative rock music. Kohler is a special education teacher in Brattleboro, while Del Sesto is a journalism professor at Keene State College specializing in multimedia production and photojournalism. “Our goal over the past few months is to try to alleviate the stress and frustration we’re all facing through music,” Kohler said. “We’re happy when we make other people happy, even if it’s just for a minute.”
The awards were announced during a Facebook Live event on The Sentinel’s Facebook page Monday night. The finalists’ entries were featured in the live video, which can still be viewed on The Sentinel’s Facebook page. Del Sesto and Kohler will receive $150, while the other finalists will receive $50.