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Minglewood Hall hosts city's first Senior Idol auditions.

So what if the sponsors were health-care providers and the prop canes were real walking aids? That didn't keep more than 70 seniors from lighting up the stage at the Silver Stars Senior Idol auditions at Minglewood Hall last weekend.

After three successful years of the Silver Stars senior talent competition in Nashville, sponsoring organization HealthSpring decided to extend the first round of the competition to the Memphis area. For the first time, seniors from the Mid-South auditioned for the chance to attend the Silver Stars finals at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Blues diva Ruby Wilson and musical acts the Masqueraders and the Reed Riders were named as finalists and will go on to compete for the $5,000 grand prize.

"We've found some tremendous talent," said Billy Block, who has hosted the program in Nashville for three years and was this year's host for Memphis' inaugural Silver Stars event. "Mostly singers and musicians, but a buck dancer won the first year of the competition in Nashville."

Buck dancing?

"It's a form of clogging," Block said.

Yes, you can go ahead and dispel those assumptions that 60-plus performers shy away from dance routines. In the time I spent at Saturday's audition, I saw things that made my own knees hurt: some hip-shaking, some tap dancing, and even something called "mime-dancing" from 63-year-old James Lewis. Lewis took the stage to shake his moneymaker, miming "A Night Out on the Town" — with his cane doubling as his hot date — to James Brown's "Ain't It Funky Now."

"I hope to place high," Lewis said, before he went on. "Or at least be seen so somebody might put me in a commercial."

Kay Catterton, a 67-year-old Grizzlies Granny dancer from Munford, decked out in sparkling jeans and a sequin-collared blouse, performed her tap-dancing routine to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock-and-Roll." After admiring the saxophone miming, duck-walking, and disco moves, I wasn't surprised to learn that Catterton is a dance teacher herself, devoted to bringing high-energy moves to seniors at the Tipton County Commission on Aging.

"Anytime there's anything for a senior to compete in, I'm right there. Because there aren't that many things," she said. "And maybe I won't break my leg," she added, tapping out a warm-up.

There was no shortage of jokes about the age and condition of participants. "Somebody bring him some oxygen and water," Block said as one of the dancers finished his routine. "And if you need a B-12 shot, I can hook you up."

But even with the dose of levity, many of the seniors shared talents they've been honing over a lifetime of practice.

Butch Mudbone wailed on the electric guitar. Peggy Sue Kirk revived a sweet country tearjerker, "I Never Once Stopped Loving You." And 86-year-old William Phillips, by far one of the oldest competitors, sucked the air out of the room with his arrangement to Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees."

"I've never played an electric piano in my life," Phillips said as he surveyed the stage. "But there one sits, so I'll do my best."

Don't worry. He nailed it. Electric piano and all.


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