Seminole Star Search combs the state for top talent

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By Sandra Hale Schulman
Hollywood, Florida (NFIC) 6-08

Young Tori Osceola and her Spotlight Award.
Photos by Felix DoBosz

Seminole country is a big, talented place. From the youth to the elders, there are singers,

songwriters, flute players, and rappers. In order to showcase the diversity of the tribe, Promotions Director Micki Free came up with the idea of a Seminole Star Search.

In the spring, Free took a panel of judges – singer Shea, bassist Jon Brant, and singer/songwriter Matt Kramer – on a bus tour to all the reservations across the long state of Florida. At each reservation, including Tampa, Hollywood, Big Cypress, they held an open call for performers to show up and strut their stuff. Contestants were evaluated for their stage presence, vocal or instrumental ability and presentation.

Four or five contestants from each showcase for a total of 20 were selected to appear in the big final show in Hollywood, FL, during May. The house was packed as contestants arrived via limosine and walked a red carpet into the theater at the Seminole headquarters.


Spencer Battiest giving his winning gospel performance.

The show was co-hosted by Sallie Tommie, assistant to Tribal Chairman Mitchell Cypress, who explained to the crowd that “Our aim is only to encourage the talents of all Seminoles.” Micki Free was a funny, charming MC, teasing and encouraging and helping contestants all the way along.

The lights dimmed and the show began with a stunning performance of a newly recorded version of Seminole Wind sung by Shea and backed by Free on guitar and Brant on bass.

The array of talent that followed was amazing, with performances from girls as young as 7 singing acapella; to 20-something women performing their favorite country hits; to elder Seminoles playing flute. A particularly rousing disco medley, and a few rappers charged up the house with stirring songs of Native pride – and problems.

Family members had traveled from all over the state to cheer on their contestants.

The judges found something good in every performance, whether it was the choice of song, personality, or vocal style.

“It’s not like American Idol,” says judge Jon Brant. “We want to find the best of the best and encourage the rest. This can be a real platform for these artists, and we need to be as constructive in our evalations as we can.”

As the evening continued, there were a few standouts, and the judges and audience clearly had their favorites. After a presentation of platinum albums to the tribal council that helped put the show together and to the judges for all their months of hard work, it was time to announce the winners.

Four spotlight trophies were given out to those the judges felt were definitely ones to watch, and those four were automatically eligible to be in the finals next year.


Matt Kramer leads the group song.

The three top prize winners were Spencer Battiest, an unbelievably talented soul singer with a voice like a young Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder. David Billy gave an amazing rendition of Garth Brooks “More Than a Memory” that earned him a spot. Young rapper Zachary “Truth” Battiest dazzled the audience and judges with his flashy dance moves, killer black and silver outfit and dead aim style. The winners each received a gorgeous crystal trophy and will be recording a full CD that will be distributed to every Hard Rock Café in the world.

Free also announced that there will be a Seminole Star Music Camp beginning this summer where up and coming performers can attend and get coaching from the judges and other industry pros on how to be a real star.

To end the show in a blast of unity, Matt Kramer led the entire group of performers in singing We Are The World.