Spirit’s Appreciation Day a success

PUNXSUTAWNEY – Dean Martin. Frank Sinatra. Sammy Davis Jr. The golden days of the legendary Rat Pack.

It's not the kind of music on the average sixth-grader's iPod, but it's what 11-year-old Punxsy native Gabrielle Vallese likes, and she liked Dino's song “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes” so much, her energetic performance of that standard netted her top honors in The Punxsutawney Spirit's “Punxsy's Got Talent” event this past Saturday.

Gabrielle, the daughter of John and Kimberly Vallese of Pittsburgh, emerged as the judge's favorite among a pool of eight talented contestants competing in The Spirit's second-annual “Punxsy's Got Talent” Saturday, as part of Appreciation Day at SS.C.D.

The sixth-grader at Hillcrest Intermediate School can't recall how old she was when she began singing, but she said, “It was always something I wanted to do. I was just certain it was a God-given talent, so I might as well run with it.”

Gabrielle said after competing in a number of other talent shows — singing and cheerleading since she was in kindergarten — the Dean Martin song was one that just “really showed my range.”

She said she learned the songs of Martin, Sinatra and others from her parents, who play those standards in the car.

“It was a little more innocent,” she said of the music when members of the Rat Pack were on par with the so-called pop- and rock-stars of today. “Some of the newer songs today, it's just not my style.”

Gabrielle was born in Punxsy, but her family moved to the Pittsburgh area when she was about a year old, her father said. These days, the
family spends a lot of time in Punxsy visiting her grandparents, Anna and Dave Kennedy, who told her about “Punxsy's Got Talent” after reading The Spirit.

After her success here and elsewhere, Gabrielle said whether it's a hobby or career – or both — she wants to keep singing.

Gabrielle had some stiff competition during “Punxsy's Got Talent,” as there were seven other talents vying for the $200 prize.

Eleven-year-old Brielle King, a favorite from last year's event, showcased her vocal range and piano skills by performing “Part of Your World,” from “The Little Mermaid,” while the Mulberry Square Dancers performed “The Charleston;” the Punxsutawney Area Twirling Stars — advised by The Spirit's own Natalie Bruzda — dazzled the crowd with their abilities; and Hailey States and Taylor Reed danced up a storm to Justin Bieber's hit “Baby.”

As though that was not enough, the A.J. Parise Junior Cheerleaders and gymnast Tessa Keth displayed their physical prowess, while Marina Grisso defied gravity yet satisfied music lovers by Hula-hooping and playing the harmonica.

Emcee Terry A. Fye kept the audience entertained between acts, as did Pastor Paul Thompson, who was last year's winner, and his son Randy, who recently began laying down tracks for their first-ever CD.

Judges Jeff Curtis, Karyn Kay Farbo and Jay Philliber kept the audience on edge before they delivered their final decision.