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Happy Valley's Got Talent Showcases Local Artists For a Good Cause

by on March 29, 2015 6:00 AM

State College has become a popular destination for big-name music artists ranging from Garth Brooks to Jay-Z. 

With Saturday as proof, it's clear that the real talent has been right under Happy Valley's nose this whole time.

The Tides Program held its fifth annual Happy Valley's Got Talent fundraiser on Saturday night. The State Theatre was packed in support of the program and a talented group of performers from the area. 

Tides is a local charitable organization that provides support and counseling for grieving children and families. The philanthropy started Happy Valley's Got Talent five years ago, and it has become the charity's largest annual fundraising initiative. 

While the event is more about the cause than personal accolades, there were three winners on Saturday night. The judges had to rank the four performers in each category, broken up by age into Future Fame, Rising Stars, and Prime Time.

Hannah Richardson took the top honors for Future Fame. At 13 years old, Richardson is already an impressively talented vocalist. She's very involved in local theatre and has performed at the State College Community Theatre and the Nittany Theatre. She won with a rendition of "I Want to Be a Rockette."

The second winner, in Rising Stars, was Raina Arnett. For the State College Area High School student, winning a competition is familiar territory. Arnett has most recently won the Ann Keller Concerto Competition and the Williamsport Symphony Young Artists Competition. She performed "Souvenir" on Saturday.

The third and final winner was Darlene Coulanges, a Penn State student who grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The soon-to-be college graduate blew the crowd and judges away with a powerful cover of Etta James' "At Last." After the event came to a close, Coulanges was extremely thankful to have been a part of Happy Valley's Got Talent.

"I would call it a privilege to have the opportunity to perform in front of the community. If I can use my voice to touch anyone, I’ll do that," she says.

Coulanges adds that singing in the competition was a great way for her to give back to the community through her talent. 

"It’s great to know that I can use my voice to touch the audience and do something that benefits the community and the grieving children and families at Tides," she says. "If I can light up their day and put a smile on their face, I’ll do that any day."

The audience was supportive all that, especially during a live auction that raises thousands of dollars for Tides. At one point, two friends got into a bidding war over a $400 necklace. One man bid $600 and said that his friend can have the necklace. The friend accepted and offered to give an additional $300 to the program.

While there were plenty of generous attendees, some were there to support a performer. Judy and Roger Mitchell came out to see their granddaughter, Halle, sing Adele's "Skyfall."

"It was very well-orchestrated. I think it was supported very well and I’m happy to be a part of it," Roger Mitchell says. 

Mitchell's daughter and Halle's aunt, Kim Paddison-Herr, was also cheering on the young singer. Paddison-Herr says that she was honored to be a part of the event, even as an audience member.

"Everybody poured their heart out for a great cause. Everybody was a winner," she says. "It was emotional but it was such an amazing evening for both the performers and for the cause. We’re incredibly proud of Halle."

The star-studded panel of judges -- which includes Sue Paterno and mayor Elizabeth Goreham -- placed Halle second in her division. For Paterno, the night was more about the cause than the competition, which she hopes to judge again next year.

"The cause is unbelievably great and what a night it was," Paterno says. "It’s very meaningful for me because I know some of the kids who have gone there."

Tides executive director Suzanne Thompson was thrilled with the turnout and success of the fifth annual talent competition. She's optimistic that the event surpassed its 2014 total of $29,000. 

"The only way that we can do what we do is with community support," she says. "It was a tremendous night. The performers get better and better every year. I don’t know where they come from but they were awesome and I think they set a new standard this year."


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Zach Berger is the managing editor of He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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