Stephanie Gelinas, executive director of Sandcastle Clinical and Educational Services, center, displays a video audition on her phone for the rest of the Maine’s Got Talent reviewers to evaluate. In the front row are Mona Leavitt and Charlene O’Clair. Seated next to Gelinas are Jaci Peterson, left, and Sonia Theberge. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

Ryan Thayer of Gray belts out an original song at the Maine’s Got Talent auditions at Community Little Theatre in Auburn on Saturday. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

Lawson Dunford answers questions from the Maine’s Got Talent audition board before his performance at Community Little Theatre in Auburn on Saturday. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

AUBURN — For musicians auditioning for Maine’s Got Talent on Saturday, a trip to the Franco Center in Lewiston is almost as coveted as a trip to Hollywood.

The Franco Center is where 10 finalists will vie for prizes in March.

The eighth annual contest, styled after the national show, “America’s Got Talent,”  is open to anyone over age 16 who lives in Maine or is a college student in Maine.


After auditions Saturday and Sunday at Community Little Theatre, the judges, all employees of Sandcastle Clinical and Education Services, an education and family development nonprofit based in Lewiston, will travel to Empire Live Music and Events in Portland next weekend, where they will see more contestants.

Ryan Thayer and Lawson Dunford, both 17-year-old seniors at Gray-New Gloucester High School, auditioned back to back Saturday.

Dunford said he auditioned when he heard Thayer was auditioning. Thayer said he was inspired to audition by his music teacher. He said his audition went well.

“They asked for me to play an original after I told them I wrote songs,” he said. “I auditioned with ‘Sunflower’ by Post Malone.” Dunford said he sang a song by Niall Horan.

Thayer said he’s been writing his own music for about two and a half years, and has always performed music.

“I just want to get my name out there,” he said.


Dunford said he’s recently been building his reputation.

“In this past year, I’ve been trying to out myself out there in the music world,” he said.

He said he’s been performing with his band at venues including Erik’s Church, a bar and restaurant in Windham, and Gritty’s Brewpub in Auburn.

“I thought this would be a cool opportunity,” he said.

Stephanie Gelinas, executive director of Sandcastle, said the panel expected the final audition count to be about 50 people.

The panel will release the list of 10 finalists in early February, and those selected will perform for three cash prizes at the Franco Center on March 9. First prize is $750, second prize is $500, and third is $250.


In addition to live, in-person auditions, the panel also judged 15 electronic submissions for this year’s competition.

Gelinas said the talent brought out by the auditions is remarkable.

“The level of talent in the community and in the state of Maine is phenomenal,” she said. “We just listened to an individual submit an opera piece. There are many different levels of talent.”

Scoring from a panel of celebrity judges and a measurement of audience applause will determine the winner, Gelinas said.

“The more people performers bring, the higher our ticket sales, and the higher the performer’s opportunity to move the applause meter,” she said.

 Over the past eight years, a variety of acts have graced the stage.


Barbershop quartets, a cappella groups from local colleges, operatic singers, full-sized bands, and instrumentalists have competed.

As for Thayer and Dunford’s chances? While it was too early to tell, Gelinas and the panel of judges said they were impressed by the two young performers.

“They both came in with a tremendous love for music,” she said. “What I loved about them was that their humility was so attractive, and they were not boastful —and they were talented.”

Both Dunford and Thayer said a love of performing propelled them to audition, and, whether or not they proceed as finalists, they’ll continue to perform.

“It’s being able to reach out and touch people you’ve never even met before,” Thayer said. “You can go in there with total strangers and then be their best friend after you perform. For me, that’s the cool thing.”

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