by Jim Boyle
Every night at 6 p.m. crowds converge at the Leinie Lodge Bandshell on the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair to witness an event almost as legendary as corn dogs and cotton candy.
The annual Minnesota State Fair Amateur Talent Contest semifinals draw hundreds of fairgoers who grab a seat, or a Leinie Lounger, and watch singers, cloggers, and every type of performer in between, compete for the right to be named Minnesota’s top talent.
This year’s line-up includes a 12-year-old Elk River boy, who has been playing the guitar since he was 6 years old. Tyler Klasell, a seventh-grader at Salk Middle School, will sing and play the guitar for the Bruno Mars song “Just the Way You Are.”
He auditioned last month at the bandshell playing that very tune.
“He was all smiles after the audition,” said Chris Klasell, Tyler’s mother. “He knew he nailed it.”
Whether he would get picked was another story altogether. The competition is stiff. Klasell tried out two years ago, borrowing a song from Bon Jovi — another one of his favorite artists and bands. He played “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”
This time Klasell was one of 30 preteen division acts to make the cut. Another 30 teen division acts and 60 open division acts also advanced to the semifinals.
Klasell found out he advanced in a letter that came in the mail.
The stakes will be even higher on Aug. 31, when Klasell takes the stage. He’ll be playing for the right to play at the grandstand on Sunday, Sept. 4, and a shot at $500. This time he will be accompanied by a band that will be there to provide back up. He suspects he will get nervous before the show.
“But you get used to (being up there) once you’re up there,” he told the Star News.
Klasell doesn’t know that he’s supposed to be shy at the age of 12. He never has been when it comes to music.
He was first inspired to play listening to Shania Twain when he was just 6. He’s been practicing the guitar ever since. In addition to Bruno Mars and Bon Jovi, he also lists Nickelback as one of his favorite bands. And when he sees a band performing, he’s not afraid to ask if he can play, too.
He did that four years ago at a crab shack in Florida while on a vacation. The guitarist he asked about playing turned his expensive guitar over and watched in amazement as he played the song “Wipeout.”
“He said I did a good job,” Klasell fondly recalls.
The Elk River youth says playing the guitar is a lot of work. He said he spent about six months preparing for the talent contest. During the school year he plays before school every morning and after school, too.
Someday, he would like to play in a band — either as the lead singer and guitarist or back up. He’s not picky.
“I just like playing,” he said.
It would be nice to advance to finals, too. Winners are named at the Talent Competition Finals on Sunday, Sept. 4.