Special Needs Talent Showcase Through the Years

By: Shayla Kumaresan, FCSN Voices Youth Reporter

Founded in 2015, the Special Needs Talent Showcase gives special needs individuals the opportunity to display their talents, passions, and abilities. Through the pandemic, the showcase has faced its share of challenges. However, the event emerged successful, pioneering a Zoom and in-person hybrid model for the auditions and final competition for 2022.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Special Needs Talent Showcase was a major highlight of the Bay Area special needs community. Auditions were held in the FCSN Fremont Center or the South Bay Center, and the final competition in the Santa Clara Convention Center Theater consistently drew around 600 attendees each year. However, the 2020 pandemic and resulting shelter-in-place ordinance forced organizers to consider a different approach,  with auditions already completed and performers highly anticipating their performance in April. With an in-person showcase out of the question, they had a lengthy discussion on how to adapt to COVID circumstances, and ultimately decided to pursue an online model of the competition for 2020. 

In 2021, organizers considered postponing the competition until after COVID. However, it soon became clear that the pandemic was not ending anytime soon, and with the showcase being highly anticipated, they decided to carry on with holding auditions and the final competition fully online. Having to adapt to a new format brought tremendous challenges, but the online model also brought a silver lining: they were able to welcome 10 participants beyond the local Bay Area, including a couple from Southern California, 2 from Japan, 3 from the East Coast, and 1 from Mexico. 

2022 brought about a semblance of normalcy as people returned to schools and business in-peron. This year, Special Needs Talent Showcase organizers are attempting a hybrid model of the showcase: residents within a 50 mile radius audition in person, and people outside that radius audition over Zoom. By continuing to use Zoom as a platform for auditions, 2022 has had 6 auditions from out of the local area, with some from Southern California, 1 from Japan, 1 from Illinois, and 1 from the Philippines. The final showcase will take place in-person at Santa Clara Convention Center, and it will also be streamed live on Zoom for viewers around the world.

While many methods of holding the shows have changed, some aspects remain the same. For one, there have never been any restrictions on the talents that can be showcased, allowing anything from kung-fu to colorguard to singing the periodic table. The goal of the showcase has also never wavered. The Special Needs Talent Showcase was intended to spread awareness of people in the special needs community’s talents and give them a platform to show off their skills. With current unemployment for people with special needs at 85%, organizer Anna Wang hopes that the showcase’s extensive media promotion can spread awareness about special needs people and their wide array of abilities to ultimately help the community be more welcoming of people with special needs.

Additionally, this showcase provides the platform for special needs individuals to shine, it gives participants something to look forward to and strive to succeed at every year. Not only is the showcase intended for kids, but parents also benefit as well. Parents often hide their kid’s disabilities. By being exposed to the other kids showing off their talents, parents are motivated to also show off their kids. It helps the kids and the families remain hopeful. This was seen in one memorable act – Julian. 

Julian had participated in the showcase every year since it was first started. He first came in 2015 to audition, but he didn’t receive any awards. After asking about his money prize, he was told to work hard and come back next year. The next year, he came back, and he received an honorable mention, though he still didn’t receive any money. The third year, he came back, and he became a finalist. In his 4th year, he was another finalist. Finally, in his 5th year, he won the competition, showing that if kids put their minds to it and never gave up, they could achieve their dreams.

Overall, while the FCSN Talent Showcase has adapted to  different formats over the past few years–from in person, to Zoom, to finally, the hybrid model of 2022–the competition has remained the same source of hope and opportunity for families, both in the local area and beyond.

On April 30, 2022, FCSN will hold their 8th annual Special Needs Talent Showcase at Santa Clara Convention Center Theater. To buy virtual or in-person tickets please visit https://www.specialneedstalentshowcase.org/

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