Nonprofits win big at the 16th annual Soboba Lip Sync Contest

American Cancer Society is represented by “Smooth” at the 16th annual Lip Sync Contest presented by the Soboba Foundation and the Soboba Casino Resort. The group earned a total of $11,000 for their performance on June 14. Valley News/StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Special to Valley News

It was a night of nonstop entertainment as a dozen local nonprofits competed for thousands of dollars in prize money at the 16th annual Soboba Lip Sync Contest presented by the Soboba Foundation and Soboba Casino Resort on June 14. The sold-out three-hour event provided local nonprofits a chance to showcase their hidden talents, while bringing awareness to their various causes.

Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas introduced co-hosts Andrew Vallejos and Catherine “Cat” Modesto, who have shared the stage in the past. She said, “As always the emcee for the night, Andrew Vallejos, had the audience laughing and engaged with his shenanigans between performances.”

Vallejos said his favorite part of the entire event is seeing the faces of the performers right when they go up to the stage and right when they have finished.

Some are relieved and some are indifferent,” he said. “They all put a lot of work into their performances, and they deserve to be appreciated and thanked! Unfortunately, we can only have one first-place winner.”

Silvas was pleased with this year’s panel of judges. “They were very engaged and entertaining with their remarks to the groups about their performances,” she said.

Judges for the evening were Andrea Candelaria from the Cahuilla Band of Indians who is affectionately known as Auntie Candy; Johnny Frandsen, Creative Manager for Soboba; Mike Hiles, Tribal Information Officer for Soboba; and Steven Estrada, Soboba’s Tribal Executive Officer.

The American Cancer Society, a perennial favorite, wowed the crowd once again with their medley of silky-smooth hits performed by the team who go by “Smooth.” With their precision dance moves and individual lip-syncing talents, each one stepped up and delivered. The audience went wild, and they were awarded the $1,000 People’s Choice award along with the first-place prize of $10,000. The winnings will go to the American Cancer Society’s general account for cancer research and patient services.

The organization’s mission is to improve the lives of people with cancer and their families. “We celebrate cancer survivors, we remember those who are gone and never forgotten, and we fight back all year long for everyone,” their introduction stated.

Cathi Hill Baker, who recently retired from ACS, still volunteers and continues to raise funds for cancer research and patient services. She has been bringing acts to the Soboba stage since 2012.

We have won first place four times, second place two times and fourth place three times that I have a record of,” she said. “This is our third year to win People’s Choice since Soboba started the category.”

Performers Daniel Aponte, Samuel Gutierrez, Fel Nikoli McCoy, Roman Gutierrez, Doroteo Cordova and Andre De Jesus started rehearsing in April and practiced once a week until show time. Judge Estrada noted, “you always come prepared” and Judge Frandsen said it has been like watching a boy band grow and evolve due to their many past appearances.

Each year I’m beyond proud to be a part of such an amazing event where nonprofits come together for one night with a common goal, all while supporting each team that participates,” Baker said. “The acts are amazing each year, and the creativity is over the top. Rose Selgado would be so proud that her vision has continued each year and every year since she and Andrew brought the Soboba Lip Sync battle to the stage.”

Let Them Be Little Feline Rescue placed an extremely close second by a fraction of a point and earned $5,000. The nonprofit serves San Jacinto and surrounding areas to reduce euthanasia rates by rescuing underage and at-risk cats and kittens and placing them in loving foster homes until they are ready to go to their forever families. All cats are spayed or neutered and microchipped prior to adoption.

The group performed a steamy rendition of “Bring on the Men” from “Jekyll & Hyde, The Musical” that was a Broadway hit in the 1990s. Energetic pole dancing was a great backdrop to the sexy entertainers who took center stage. Performers were Carly, Dina McLain, Diana Serrano, Jennie Ragsdale, Carol Orozco, Diane Hockenberry and Cary with assistance from Christine and Arlene.

All are cat fosters who have cats in their homes until they can be adopted. Many of them are teachers and a few of them do pole dancing for exercise.

We all put the effort into the performance and give credit to everyone that helped us put the show together,” Orozco said. Rehearsals started about four months ago, meeting once a month but as the date got closer, they began practicing once a week.

This was the organization’s fourth year competing. “We find a song that we like and then get ideas in our head for a performance,” she said. “Many of us are passionate about musical theater and that’s where a lot of our inspiration comes from.” Orozco said their favorite part is seeing the reaction of the guests and judges.

Judge Steven Estrada said, “That was so artistic; you really got the audience going” and judge Mike Hiles said, “What a great ride you just took us on.”

Third place and $2,500 was awarded to the Hemet/San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce which “serves as the voice of local businesses by providing avenues to network, training and program development, influencing public policy and advocating legislative issues that promote local business and job growth.”

Performing Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” were Cyndi Lemke, Patricia Scott, Veronica Vergne and Latoya Butler, who were dressed in salt and pepper shaker costumes, topped by metallic hats. Estrada, who has attended every Lip Sync Contest since it began, said he has been waiting for someone to do the song justice and that it was accomplished that night.

We were late to the game in practice, so I thought, let’s go with a song we all know and love; that it made it easy for us,” said Lemke, who serves as HSJVC’s Executive Director. “We practiced twice a week for three weeks.”

She said the winnings will be used to continue the momentum of their small business support services, adding, “The prize money will help us expand our resources for local entrepreneurs, including business development workshops, networking events, and access to essential business tools. We are deeply grateful to the Soboba Foundation for this generous contribution and are committed to utilizing these funds to benefit our community effectively.”

Lemke said she loves the annual event. “The entertainment value of supporting each other is found nowhere else; you cheer on your ‘competitors’ and have a great time!”

Soroptimist International-San Jacinto Hemet Valley Club took home fourth place and $1,500. Part of a global women’s organization, the local club was chartered in 1961. Their local projects promote educational opportunities for women and girls with grants, scholarships and events.

Members Jodi True, Sonia Ramos, Valerie Vandever and Dawn Lawrence performed a burlesque-ish routine to The Pussycat Dolls’ hit “Don’t Cha.” They entered the stage as elderly ladies but once their house dresses were removed, they revealed their inner divas and rocked the stage.

We knew from previous participation (even for other nonprofits that all of us are part of) that a good act needs to be really funny, or totally pull on the heartstrings, or racy/suggestive,” Lawrence said. “Valerie came up with the song choice and we all knew we needed to peel off some clothing. Our age-group relates to hot flashes, so one thing led to another!”

Judge Auntie Candy said, “You guys nailed it; you should be proud of yourselves. Go Girl Power!”

No participants went home empty handed, and Lawrence said, “We like that all acts will at least receive a $500 award. We enjoy seeing what other groups come up with, and we know that Soboba always has great food and event set-up. This event is a great way to get our nonprofit some notice, beyond our usual methods.”

Those who each received $500 were San Jacinto Education Foundation for Best Props, Valley Community Pantry for Most Dramatic, Greater San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce for Most Original, EEK Fitness Inc. for Most Entertaining, Historic Hemet Theatre Foundation for Most Creative, Black Voices of the Valley for Best Song, Hemet USD Lifeworks for Best Costumes and Friends of San Jacinto USD for Best Choreography.

Hemet USD Lifeworks did a rendition of a Lawrence Welk “Sisters” parody and had the audience laughing throughout. Judge Auntie Candy said, “That is one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits.”

Historic Hemet Theatre General Manager Alexander Yepremian said the HHT Foundation was asked two weeks before the show to step in for a group that was unable to perform. “We aren’t afraid of a challenge,” he said. This was the first time they had been part of the competition, but they had some past experience and knew what to expect.

About eight years ago, Ben Smith and I were asked to assist with the Hemet/SJ Valley Chamber entry into the competition. We came up with Hemet’s Got Talent with a cast of about 15-20 Chamber members involved. They came in first place, so we thought, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Yepremian said. “This year, our cast consisted of myself as Ryan Seacrest, our Production Manager Gabe Valed as Simon Cowell, Community Outreach Ambassador Kathy Jensen-Robinson as Randy Jackson, Director of Performing Arts Education Ben Smith and Operations Manager Melissa Pelkey and local Realtor Joshua Pelkey as the contestants.”

Judge Johnny Frandsen said, “Melissa, I could not stop laughing,” and said it was a great job overall.

The idea of the lip sync event is genius; so great for the community with such positive energy,” Yepremian said. He said it gives everyone a chance to support local nonprofits and be entertained at the same time. When asked if the group plans to enter again next year, he said, “Oh you better believe we are coming back, bigger and better; are flames allowed?”

With the recent news of HHT’s partnership with the City of Hemet to expand the theatre into a massive performing arts center, the prize money is most welcome.

San Jacinto Education Foundation President Jerry Peebles said the $500 they earned will go into their general fund to be used with one of its many programs that support San Jacinto Unified School District students. “It will help fund a mini grant for a teacher’s classroom, an art enrichment activity or a scholarship for a deserving student,” he said.

The group was the first-place winner at the very first Lip Sync contest held at AC’s Lounge at the old Soboba Casino. “Rose Salgado put together a group representing the San Jacinto Education Foundation,” Peebles said. “Rose used to say that Lip Syncing was a great way to sing when you can’t sing, and I feel that very same way. A few years ago, Scott Cozart and I did a lip sync tribute to Rose, ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn,’ to honor her. Being one of the ‘older’ people, we usually pick songs from our era of music. I like to add some visual connection to the song in the form of a sight gag because in addition to not being able to sing, I can’t dance either.”

Joining Peebles as Bob Dylan performing “Blowin’ in the Wind” were fellow board members Vince Record, Ken Reed, Neal Conijn, Tony O’Neal and Kim Schouten. They were joined by Steve Mcclean and Cor Schouten, who are members of the Alumni Association.

Andrew and the Soboba Foundation have done a great job of improving the event each year,” Peebles said. “When it started at AC’s Lounge, it was first-come seating, and the lines would wind through the casino starting hours before the performance. Now, with assigned seating and in the beautiful Event Center at the new Soboba Casino Resort, we have the perfect venue. I really like how you have all these ordinary people, who belong to nonprofit groups that are formed to help people in our valley, come together and create an act that brings so many people a night of joy. A huge thank you to Soboba for this and everything they do for the San Jacinto Valley.”

Foundation President Dondi Silvas said that each year the bar for talent is raised higher. “This year, the nonprofit organizations really stepped up their game from the very first group of the night to the last act to walk off the stage,” she said.

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