November 22, 2013

American Idols Give Back in Bastrop

by Angela Castillo

Bastrop people take care of each other. Through storms, floods and fires, a strong community spirit draws people from other towns and even states and makes them think, “Maybe I’ll stay here for awhile.”

According to Tresha Silva, the director of Bastrop’s Emergency Food Pantry, the town has provided over a quarter of a million pounds of food for the needy in the last year, but the need is always there. “The summer months are when we are hit hardest,” she said. “During the holidays we have more help.”

Tresha Silva, Executive Director of the Bastrop County Food Pantry

Every year, the community comes together for an annual concert called “The Sounds of Sharing,” where local musical talents share their gifts to raise funds for the food pantry.

This year, the community grew by a few extra members.

Ron DeShay grew up in Bastrop and went to high school with former judge Ronnie McDonald. He approached Silva with an idea; why not have a few celebrities join the local singing groups for a blend of talents to create a show of epic proportions. And DeShay had the power to back up his suggestion; he was a former producer for the mega-show “American Idol.”

“These people are special to me,” said DeShay, patting Season One contestant Tamyra Gray on the shoulder. “When I called them, none hesitated, not even for little ol’ Bastrop. Pia Toscano is recording an album. Ruben Studdard took time away from planning his holiday tour. This says alot about their character. They have not allowed the success to change who they are.”

Paris Bennett, Tamyra Gray, and Ron DeShay.

Tamyra Gray wore a simple knit cap and scarf and smart orange and crimson pantsuit. She explained the elaborate henna designs on her hands and feet. “I had it done to remind me of who I am. It keeps me grounded.” She explained she normally chooses to stay home and take care of her baby but “I’m very happy to be here... If I want to sing, I want it to be meaningful.”

Gray captivated the room with her beauty, grace, and inspiring words. When asked if anyone in her life had been touched by hunger, she responded, “I’ve been touched by hunger. We all have our struggles.”

When she was asked about her time on the show, Gray said, “None of us had any idea what to expect. We didn’t have former seasons to go by. They wanted to have cameras on us in the house and we all said ‘no, this isn’t Big Brother!”

Gray went on to say, “I knew unless I had a vision for myself I would be a puppet. I wanted to make an album for myself... that was authentically me.”

Paris Bennett, who finished fifth on Season Five of AI, lit up the room with her dazzling smile. Her words, though softly spoken, made an impact. “I’m a mommy to a five-year-old. I was the only girl for a long time, so I have learned a lot. I’ve had to learn to share! (My daughter) likes to volunteer at children’s hospitals. You learn from other people’s downfalls.Why not use my gift to give?”

Paris Bennett, photo by Sugarbee Photography.

When asked if she had any advice for young people who dreamed of the spotlight, Bennett said, “If you want to come into (the spotlight), be prepared to stand on your own feet. Don’t let them change you. Always be who you are.”

On the night of the Concert, over fifty people armed with cameras, notepads and (in some cases) parental excitement waited in breathless anticipation at the red carpet unrolled outside of Bastrop’s Jerry Fay Wilhelm Performing Arts Center. First came the local groups, the well-loved Peterson Brothers Band, the Jubilate Choir, Classical guitarist Mark Cruz, local 13-year old vocalist Jordan Underwood, Ascension Choir, Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University Gospel Choir, and the Flava Dance Group. It was hard to tell the celebrities from the local talent, everyone looked splendid in their dazzling apparel and brilliant smiles.

Producer Ron DeShay and wife, photo by Sugarbee Photography.
Tamyra Gray, photo by Amber Mitchell Photography.

Paris Bennett, photo by Amber Mitchell Photography.

Director Tresha Silva strutted her stuff in a gorgeous gown. Glowing, she said, “I love the spirit! They all just said ‘what do you need?’ Our Heavenly Father is smiling brightly from Heaven at all the work being done.”

Pia Toscano, who was ninth on Season Ten of American Idol, looked gorgeous in a black mini-dress. “(This concert) allows us to have a voice,” she said. “I’m happy to be here. I love Texas.”

Pia Toscano, photo by Amber Mitchell Photography.
Pia Toscano, photo by Parmazon.

Ruben Studdard, winner of Season Two brought a friend out with him on the red carpet. “This is Shane,” he said, introducing the young boy with a happy grin. Ruben’s joy was spread across his face in his signature smile, and invited everyone to be a part. “I’m always happy to be a part of an event that’s helping people,” he said. “Ron was special to me on American Idol, so I was happy to come.”

Ruben Studdard, photo by Amber Mitchell Photography.

Ruben Studdard and friend, Shane Hall, photo by Sugarbee Photography.

The event itself did not disappoint. The evening was kicked off with a short film featuring Ron DeShay, former Bastrop Judge Ronnie McDonald and Donald Williams, Communications Director for Bastrop Independent School District.

Local talent and former Idols performed together in an effortless blend of talents. Tamyra Gray added a few moves of her own with the Flava Dance team. Pia Toscano joined the Peterson Brothers in a bluesy version of “Lean on Me.” Paris Bennett, resplendent in a gold-sequined gowm, joined the local Ascension Choir for “I Will,” a song dedicated to victims of the Bastrop fires. Ruben Studdard brought his famous “Flying Without Wings” to life with the help of Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University Gospel Choir.

Tamyra Gray, photo by Amber Mitchell Photography.

Pia Toscano, photo by Sugarbee Photography.

Paris Bennett, photo by Sugarbee Photography.
Ruben Studdard, photo by Precious Moments Photography.
Tamyra Gray, photo by Parmazon.
Tamyra Gray, photo by Sugarbee Photography.

Paris Bennett, photo by Sugarbee Photography.
Tamyra Gray, photo by Sugarbee Photography.

Jordan Underwood shone in her green ballgown. The 13 year old eighth grader blew the room away with her rendition of Lourde’s “Royals.” The Jubilate choir blended a lovely African Christmas song with a fun traditional African dance from the Flava dance team. And Marc Cruz mesmerized the audience with a brilliant acoustic guitar solo.

Jordan Underwood, photo by Precious moments Photography.

Marc Cruz, photo by Parmazon.
Peterson Brothers Band, photo by Amber Mitchell Photography.

Sounds of Sharing concert 2013, photo by Nathan Driggers.

All in all, a night of entertainment of a caliber Bastrop has never seen. In the words of Tamyra Gray, “If you dwell in the negative, you will not be able to see the light.

And the light shone brightly Tuesday night. May it bring warmth and encouragement to the hearts of those at the Food Pantry for years to come.

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