Jerome Johnson had a plan, but it was much bigger than the performance.
Johnson’s strategy in the third annual Lee’s Summit’s Got Talent competition paid off handsomely after he was awarded first place and a $5,000 grand prize by a panel of judges, but the assistant manager for general merchandise at HyVee East in Lee’s Summit came away with something much more valuable.
He believes his rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” was the perfect segue into not only reviving his musical career, but to inspire others as well, including his teenage son, a junior-to-be in the Blue Springs School District.
“It was strategic,” Johnson said June 24, three days after capturing first place at the annual contest at Lee’s Summit High School’s Performing Arts Center. “You have to think about the timing of it. Just from the standpoint of the song itself, the notoriety of the song, the demographics of what I see working here in Lee’s Summit, and the contest – a lot of parents and children. Parents are 30, and 40-years-old and up, big Whitney Houston fans, Kevin Costner fans; so it was a lot of cross-cultural identities in that song.
“Plus, I’ve never heard a male sing it before.”
Honing in on skills cultivated for more than 20 years in the music business, Johnson delivered a stirring performance he felt resonated with judges, event organizers, fellow competitors and adoring fans in attendance.
“I thought it would be a great song to sing,” he said.
Julie Bruce, chair for this year’s contest, said Johnson was a symbol of hope in the dressing room before, during and after the performances.
“I think it was awesome,” Bruce said of Johnson’s performance. “I really thought it was a collaboration and not a competition. They all were so supportive of one another behind the stage. You would have never guessed that it was a competition. They all had really great sportsmanship and support for one another. Jerome was so kind to everyone, and everyone was so supportive of him winning. I was very pleased.”
Bruce said more than 718 people were seated during the event. Although the amount raised wasn’t final at the beginning of the week, the annual event put on by Lee’s Summit Cares once again proved Lee’s Summit does indeed have talent.
“This, I believe, opens up the opportunity for Lee’s Summit to be recognized as a city of up growth on major levels – culturally, socially and definitely economically,” said Johnson, a Higginsville native who now resides in Blue Springs. He has toured the country and the world as a singer of both original and cover music, and as a back-up vocal performer. “I have watched (television) shows where they have shown young couples, families from Boston, Minneapolis, and places coming to Lee’s Summit. Lee’s Summit is actually growing, and it’s recognized nationally for its economics and social boundaries, for a lack of a term. There are so many (talented) people here. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s cool. We have a very diverse set of people from the standpoint of music.”
Celebrity judges at the show included Lee’s Summit native Matt Lewis, musician Mike Metheny and Lee’s Summit Elementary School teacher Kristen Merrell, and was hosted by the husband and wife team of Andy and Tammy Heath. A $500 “crowd pleaser” award was given to Jordan Haas, a vocalist who performed “When I Was Your Man.”
Andy Heath, other competitors, asked Johnson what he planned to do with his grand prize earnings.
“My son is in the Blue Springs Marching Band,” he said. “He will be a junior this next year. He needs help. He’s growing, so he needs help as far as academics and music are concerned. So that’s what’s happening with that. That was what I was blessed with. It’s about the kid. When he’s in college, I’m going back out on the road. I still have that passion.”