This year marks the 64th anniversary of the Mid-South Fair Youth Talent Contest. This annual event is the largest amateur performing arts talent contest in the world. For over five decades young entertainers from an eight-state region have performed in the hopes of being recognized and catapulted to fame.
The discovery, development and encouragement of young amateur entertainers at the Mid-South Fair has been the purpose of the Youth Talent Contest since its inception in 1953. Each year, the Youth Talent Committee selects deserving acts from a field of thousands of contestants at more than 150 different preliminary contests. Talented individuals and groups compete in preliminaries sponsored by clubs, schools, county fairs and civic groups for the chance to perform in the contest.
All contestants in the Mid-South Fair Youth Talent Contest must be between the ages of 13 and 21 as of the opening day of the Fair (Sept. 21, 2017). The Overall winners of each sanctioned contest and other select acts from preliminary contests are invited to compete. Categories for performance include dance solo, dance group, variety acts (solo and group), instrumental solo, instrumental group/band, vocal solo (male and female) and vocal group. The Youth Talent Contest also has a Junior Division, to showcase talented 9-12 year olds, that is held the opening weekend of the fair.
The Mid-South Fair Youth Talent Contest has served as a launching pad for the careers of many noteworthy performers. Elvis Presley is probably one of the most famous participants. Before achieving international stardom, young Elvis competed in the Mid-South Fair Youth Talent Contest. After his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, he made a surprise return to the Mid-South Fair in 1956 and played to an enthralled hometown audience.
Singing sensations Justin Timberlake and Lance Bass performed on the Youth Talent stage before achieving mega-stardom with the pop group `NSync. Gospel singer Clay Cross found his voice on the stage in the Mid-South Fair Youth Talent Contest, as did Pop and R&B singer Wendy Moten. Past Grand Award winners Marty Slayton and Lisa McNeal both of the vocal group Crystal, have sung backup for superstars Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, George Strait and Lee Ann Womack. Songwriter and singer Jimmy Davis, who has written hits for Restless Heart and Martina McBride was a performer here. Patsy Cline was a sweepstakes winner at the Fair. Former Grand Award Winner Eric Henderson has appeared in Music Videos with Lionel Richie and Janet Jackson. 1999 Grand Award winner Daniel Spiotta performed with the national touring company of the Broadway musical Jeckyll and Hyde. 2001Grand Award Winner Whitney Branan has appeared in block buster movies such as "The Bilnd Side" , and worked with the National Touring Company and Broadway Cast of Billy Elliott and Upright Citizens Brigade. Natalie Fotopoulos (So You Think You Can Dance) , Gideon McKinney (American Idol) Paul Jolley, (American Idol), Austin Carroll (The One) competed on our stage before advancing as Finalists in these Reality Show Competitions. 2003 Grand Award Winner Justin Allen Tate has performed on the national touring company of the Broadway smash hit, Smokey Joe's Café, and is a member of the USO Touring Company, Sweepstakes Winner, Nick Boddington toured with other Top 48 Finalists of the 2012 Season of American Idol and Former Youth Talent Finalist Skylar Laine advanced to the Top 5 of the same season. Many other incredibly talented finalists have continued their careers in New York and in Los Angeles after their start at the Mid South Fair, including, now appearing on Broadway in Spiderman, Maxx Reed; top model, Lauren Holmes ; touring in Sister Act , Angie Smith ; and actor, singer, songwriter, playright and photographer, Jade Bartlett , as well as the star of the Television Series, Jr. American Idol and Pretty Liars, Lucy Hale. Headliners and touring artists such as Jessica Andrews, Will Tucker, Juhee, Grant Voglefanger, Witt McKay and Beau Davidson all sing the praises of their time in this incredible showcase for young talent.