CLEARWATER — Eleven years ago, Steve Bryant's dreams were crushed by the hands of an abusive lover who choked him, permanently damaging his vocal cords.
Bryant, 58, had forged a passion for singing since he was 15, when he started performing in piano bars. But doctors said he would never sing again. The man Bryant had loved had silenced him.
"He took away more than my vocals," Bryant said. "He took my life away."
Wednesday, Bryant lived again.
As he crooned Ricky Van Shelton's Statue of a Fool, he was one of about 40 performers, from dancers to saxophonists to comedians, who auditioned at Japanese Garden Mobile Estates for a chance to advance to the Pinellas County Bright House Networks Bright Stars Senior Talent Show, to be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Largo Cultural Center. Ticket prices for the show are $6.50.
As in previous years, all participants are 55 or older.
Bryant, who self-rehabilitated his vocal cords and regained his singing voice in 2005, said he enjoys talent shows because they allow him to continue his comeback.
"It gives me self-confidence and self-pride because I came back from something that was never supposed to happen," he said.
Auditions have also been held over the past week in Hillsborough and Manatee counties for their county shows. An audition in New Port Richey is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 28 at the CARES Claude Pepper Senior Center.
Ten acts from Wednesday's Pinellas audition will perform at the county show. Three acts from each county show will advance to the Senior Idol Competition, which is being held at 7 p.m. April 6 at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Tickets will cost $6.
There, a final winner will receive a $500 award and $500 to donate to his or her charity of choice. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to a senior charity, according to Susan Juhl, Bright House Networks community relations coordinator.
Jen Holloway, Bright House marketing relations representative, said Wednesday's audition brought out the best and most entertaining in all.
"It's a hoot," she said. "They really get into what they do."
As 69-year-old Carol Cestaro sat and watched many of her peers sing classic songs, play instruments and dance, she couldn't resist.
The Pinellas Park resident and previous participant had come just to watch, but she said she just had to get up and sing.
"I just got the urge," she said. "At my age, you do it now or never."
Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report.