Rochester's got talent!
If it wasn't evident before, it is now after two Rochester musicians swept two divisions at the Minnesota State Fair Talent Show on Sunday.
Shawnessy Lau, a 23-year-old Rochester Community and Technical College student, won the open division with her solo performance of the cult-hit "Alto's Lament." And Kathleen Thompson, 15, took first place in the teen division performing a jazz piano solo, "Fly Me to the Moon."
Lau won $10,000 and a year's supply of Jack's Pizza. Thompson won $2,500 and a year's worth of pizza.
"It really was a surprise," said Lau. "I did not go in thinking that I was coming out with that result. It was really, really exciting."
The 11th child in a large Von Trap-like family of 12 siblings, Lau was surrounded by music growing up in New Hampton, Iowa. She studied music and nursing as part of a double major in college at Iowa University. But finding the double major too overwhelming "because the two worlds are so different," Lau decided to focus on nursing.
After finishing her nursing prerequisites, Lau transferred to Rochester Community and Technical College. But she didn't abandon music. Dropping it as a major opened up time and opportunities for her to perform.
Lau was among 400 contestants to compete in the talent show's open, teen and pre-teen divisions (the pre-teen was the only category a Rochester person did not win). By the time Lau reached the finalist stage at the state fair grandstand, the number of contestants had been winnowed to 10.
The finalists included vocalists, violin players, classical pianists, dancers and operatic singers. A regular performer at the Iowa State Fair talent contest, Lau said she did not expect to win.
"I'm really hypercritical. There were things that I was sure I could have done better," Lau said in judging her performance. "But after a performance, I kind of forget what happens, especially in that environment because it was so high energy and so exciting."
Lau was behind the stage when they called out her name as the winner.
"It didn't feel real," she said. "I was kind of stunned by it, but in a good way."
Thompson, a Century High School sophomore, won the right to compete at the state fair grandstand Sunday by winning the County Fair Talent Contest, which held its final round Saturday night. Thompson has been playing piano since she was three-and-a-half, so the idea of playing in front of an estimated audience of 10,000 didn't intimidate her or make her nervous.
"I was just really excited," Thompson said.
Asked if she has plans to become a professional musician, Thompson was noncommittal, "We'll see how this goes." But by winning teen division Sunday, the 15-year-old guaranteed herself an opening act spot on stage for next year's talent show.
Thompson intends to use the lion's share of her $2,500 winnings to pay for a trip to Galapagos Islands next summer.
And what does Lau plan to do with her $10,000 winnings?
"I have a lot of student loans," Lau said.