ST. PETERSBURG — America might have talent, but what it really needs is a better sense of geography.
During Monday's broadcast of America's Got Talent auditions, St. Petersburg wasn't uttered once as the location of the on-stage auditions.
The omission has St. Petersburg officials miffed, considering that the show held April auditions of the NBC show at the Mahaffey Theater and then included shots of the city's landmark Salvador Dalí Museum during Monday's show.
It didn't help that show producers instead spotlighted Tampa, which hosted a prior set of auditions in November. Shots of downtown Tampa's skyline were included in the broadcast, the headlines of video clips and photos said Tampa, and host Nick Cannon rallied a crowd of flag-waving fans where a Tampa Fire Rescue truck could be seen in the background.
"I was disappointed," said St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster. "St. Petersburg wasn't mentioned once. But for the fact that I recognized the (Mahaffey), I would have thought that it took place in Tampa."
It was a snub that stung especially because Tampa is being hyped by some as the next home of the Tampa Bay Rays, who currently play in St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field. Foster and other city officials bristle every time ESPN broadcasts a game from the Trop by declaring, "Live from Tampa." City officials even took steps to avoid another slight. The city owns the venue, the Mahaffey, where America's Got Talent was shot. Big 3 Entertainment manages and operates the facility. Mahaffey general manager Joe Santiago negotiated the deal with the show's producers that included a requirement to mention St. Petersburg.
But Santiago said they were obligated to mention St. Petersburg only if they mentioned where they were.
"They cannot say that we are here in Tampa if they are standing in St. Petersburg," Santiago said. "They upheld the contract from that standpoint."
They did that by not stating where the auditions were, Santiago said. Instead, they just avoided saying where they were and were therefore never required to say St. Petersburg, he said.
Meanwhile, stars on the show, such as Howie Mandel, repeatedly said the show was in the "Tampa Bay area."
Bill Edwards, who owns Big 3 Entertainment, said he was in the audience when the show was taped.
"I think Howie Mandel said Tampa Bay something like four times," Edwards said. "I was like, 'Kill me.' "
But Edwards said there is little the city or the Mahaffey could do to force the producers to utter those four syllables — St. Petersburg.
"I can't script them," Edwards said. "TV is going to do what it wants. You either accept it or don't get seen."
Big 3 leased the theater for $25,000. Santiago said it was a positive event for the city. He said more clips of the St. Petersburg auditions are set to air June 12, and he is negotiating that St. Petersburg will be mentioned in that broadcast.
Monday's show was probably the highest rated of the night, with about 10 million viewers. But while they might have seen St. Petersburg, they never heard it.
"It never crossed my mind that this would turn into a Tampa event," Foster said.