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True or not, talent has local TV outlet

Latasha Lee wants to launch a professional singing career.

She has already auditioned for American Idol. And she performs her favorite song "Get Here" whenever she has a chance.

The Largo resident is hoping someone sees her on True Talent next month _ a local television show that features talent from across the Tampa Bay area. It airs three times a week on Channel 96 in Pinellas County.

You never know who may be watching, says J. Fred Dixon Jr., the creator.

Since True Talent first aired in 1992, more than 500 performers have appeared on the show, including the group H-Town and Ol' Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the Wu Tang Clan, who died in November.

"I have had stand-up comedians, an African dance troupe has been on two or three times," said Dixon, also the executive director of Silk 'n' Jeans and the Klassy Kids Modeling Troupe. "I have the Dunedin steppers coming on next month. Mostly they sing, dance or rap, do poems."

True Talent is not Showtime at the Apollo. No clown is going to emerge and escort someone off the stage for being a bad singer. There isn't any booing on the set.

There are no judges, no prizes, no entry fee.

Who cares if someone shows too much cleavage and doesn't have enough pop? Does it matter that a comedian's humor is dry?

"I would pretty much put anyone on there," Dixon said. "It's an outlet."

Dixon, who lives in Clearwater, created True Talent because he wanted to give local artists a chance to show off their skills. He once hosted talent shows in the late 1980s with Oliver Crawford, Lewis Bryant and Rodney Young, who are also involved in the music business.

Artists would come from Tennessee and Atlanta to be in the talent shows, which were held throughout Tampa Bay, said Young, who has a recording studio with Bryant.

"We saw there was talent and wanted to get some of the major record labels to focus in on the Tampa Bay area," Young said. "They would go to Miami, but Tampa was always missed when they were recruiting talent."

Those talent competitions became very popular. Attendance for each one ranged from 500 to 1,000.

A few years later, Dixon decided to take a talent show to the air. He took classes at the Pinellas County television studio, then used some of his contacts from the talent competitions to find artists.

Jai Hinson, the producer, said the talent runs the gamut _ singers, steppers, jazz bands, kids who flip.

"Everybody has their own unique flavor," said Hinson, who also heads the Dundu Dole African dance troupe. "Every singer is different, every dance performance is different."

Dixon has a list of people who want to perform on the show, which is filmed the first Tuesday of each month. He does 12 shows a year and each one airs multiple times.

"I used to do two shows a month because it's just that much talent," he said. "I have had people come out that weren't good, but the show is to give people an outlet."

The Tampa Bay area just doesn't have enough venues to showcase artists, said Johnny Williams, chief executive officer of Ground Level Entertainment, a music management group in Tampa.

He said Hillsborough doesn't have a show like True Talent, so he is grateful his artists can perform on the show.

One of his singers, Kayesty, also known as Karhonda Taylor, sang for the show airing tonight. She is releasing an album this summer called All My Life.

"I'm hoping to go as far as I can," said Taylor, who works for WorkNet Pinellas. "I write my own music, so I especially want my writing to get out there."

Oliver King, who lives in Clearwater, hopes for the same thing.

He came to the television studio Tuesday with his three kids in tow and a bottle of lemon juice (he was hoarse) and belted out two gospel songs, No Weapon and Can't Give Up Now.

"I was on the show six years ago as part of a group," King said. "My goal is to cut a deal one day and minister across the world, letting people know about Christ."

Hinson knows people are watching. The host, Elijah Q, has signed a fair share of autographs. He is considered a multitalented artist who does a number of performances on the show _ rapping, poetry and singing.

She has big dreams for True Talent, like a commercial television channel, maybe more of a competition.

"Channel 96 right now is kind of far up on the scale," she said. "It'd be nice if the number could come down a little bit so more people would happen by the station.

Hinson doesn't make any promises that someone will find fame through the show. And not everyone on the show is looking for that.

"Some people are just coming to show what they can do," she said. "Some were asked to come on and show their talents. Our role is to encourage them to continue on with their goals."

Megan Scott can be reached at 445-4167 or mscottsptimes.com.

FYI

True Talent airs on Bright House Networks Channel 96 at 5:30 p.m. Monday, 1 a.m. Tuesday, and 6 a.m. Friday. For information on how to be on the show, call J. Fred Dixon Jr at 446-6648.

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