Until Saturday night, the biggest thing Tyler Ammerman had done with his Marine Band blues harmonica was a quick jam session with “X Factor” star Vino Alan.
That all changed when the Rolla native topped nine other finalists to win “Rolla’s Got Talent” at the Leach Theatre.
The 19-year-old performed a rollicking blues medley to edge out a first-place victory in the talent show.
He will represent mid-Missouri at open auditions in Denver for the “America’s Got Talent” TV series, using a rare “Fast-Pass” that will let him skip long lines and waiting times to audition.
“I feel great,” Ammerman commented after the show. “I thought I played it well and just went out and jammed. It was a lot of fun.”
Ammerman was born and raised in the Rolla/St. James area but currently resides in Linn.
He is self-taught on several musical instruments and got into harmonica when his family bought him one at a Cracker Barrel General Store when Tyler was 2 years old.
By the time they arrived home, he was producing music from it.
The blues harpist edged out The Farethewells, a four-piece family band, for the title following incredibly close voting by three judges including celebrity judge/performer Neal E. Boyd, operatic tenor who won “America’s Got Talent” in 2008. Boyd performed four songs for a crowd of about 150 at Leach Theatre.
Third place went to the Aaron and Denise Gillam family magic performers.
But the real winners of the regional talent contest will be children at Newburg Elementary School, said Eva Seibert, a regional coordinator for the contest sponsors, The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.
The Food Bank will use proceeds from Saturday night’s event to help finance Buddy Packs at the school.
Buddy Packs are supplemental food backpacks for children who have little or no food to eat over weekends when school breakfasts and lunches aren't available to them.
"This is the first large community event The Food Bank has conducted in the Rolla area. Promoting ‘Rolla's Got Talent’ has helped spread awareness about the services we offer and about the agencies that partner with us to feed hungry families in Phelps County," said Seibert.
"This fundraiser was an exciting and fun way to celebrate local talent as well as being an excellent way to promote a much needed hunger initiative. I am happy that fewer parents of hungry children will need to wonder how they are going to get through the weekend,” she continued.
“I am also excited to see how far our ‘Rolla's Got Talent’ winner will go in the ‘America's Got Talent’ competition,” Seibert added. “Who knows ... we may have next season's winner!”
Page 2 of 2 - Other contestants in “Rolla’s Got Talent” included Rick Arnall, of Osage Beach; Kimberly Gittemeier, of Jacksonville; Rafael Danielson, an East Timorian who is studying at Missouri S&T; Chelsey Doyle, of Dixon; Kaitin Hawkins, of Rolla; and Holly Bickmeyer, of Mokane.
Michael Yetman, a Food Bank staffer and professional comedian, was the emcee for the show.
Sponsors were Citizens Bank of Newburg, Hutcheson Ford, Leach Theatre, The Dance Studio, Comfort Suites, KZNN, Merle’s Music, Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity and UM Healthy for Life.