Maybe someday Cabazon will be the spot where San Bernardino resident Rene Williams, a private voice instructor, got discovered.

Williams, 60, was enthusiastic as he waited his turn to be seated with four other contestants in chairs outside the judging room for regional America’s Got Talent auditions, on the second floor of the Morongo Resort’s hotel.

Only the artists in their group got to see any of the auditions.

You never know what you’re going to find during open auditions, least of all in an obscure place such as Cabazon (compared to the likes of Hollywood), a sentiment that excited television producers seeking that diamond in the rough.

Most visitors probably know Cabazon more for its outlet shops and the Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa, the latter of which hosted auditions for the NBC series America’s Got Talent T.V. show last Friday in a couple of its ballrooms.

Throughout the day, groups of five folks at a time were given up to 90 seconds apiece to strut their stuff before Executive Producers Jason Raff and Nigel Caaro.

Other cities where the show conducted auditions included New York and Detroit, with upcoming audition dates in Los Angeles, Tampa, Charlotte and San Antonio.

Williams had heard about it through, which he subscribes to.

“I’m going to sing ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’”, a Marvin Gaye classic, Williams said.

When this reporter admitted to not being familiar with the song, Williams broke into a peppy impromptu demonstration of it.

“I practiced too much to get it down to 30 seconds,” Williams said. “I think I can make a lot of noise.”

According to Williams, since auditions are limited to 90 seconds, those going in are encouraged to “go straight to your strong point” of whatever piece it is they are auditioning.

Crystal Wells of Inglewood, 58, stood out: she’s a hair over 6 feet tall, and was encouraged to audition for America’s Got Talent by her children, who have told her that she sounds like Whitney Houston.

“I need to get discovered,” she said, joking that she could use the money.

She claimed to have worked with some bigwigs in the music industry, saying that Smokey Robinson was a former producer of hers, and she used to chauffeur around David Rutherford.

She didn’t realize until she got to Cabazon that America’s Got Talent will be hosting auditions on Feb. 9 in Los Angeles.

“I’m glad, because there are less people” to go up against, Wells said.

According to Wells, during her audition she originally started to sing a song, but told the producers, “This is too low for me. Do you mind if I start over with something else?”

The producers seemed amenable, and she played an original piece on the piano.

“Another contestant told me after that my second try was more impressive. She told me, ‘You could really feel it coming from you.’”

Banning resident Tarashawn Ruehle, 29, who has occasionally performed the national anthem at city events, patiently waited in a holding area to perform an original piece on her ukulele, “Pirate Man.”

“I didn’t tell anyone I was coming here,” she said. “It’s my first time trying out for something like this” on a national stage. She seemed relaxed.

“Whatever happens, happens,” she said. “At least I’ll know what it’s like.”

She did not reveal to the Record Gazette how she felt her audition went.

Yucaipa online radio broadcaster Mark Westwood chauffeured one of his employees, Ethan Oaks, to the auditions.

He waited in a holding area as Oaks sat in one of the five chairs set aside for those on deck in the “hurry up and wait” position, who are about to be called in next.

“We sing karaoke all the time,” Westwood said of his friendship with Oaks. “I wish they had a monitor out here so we could watch” the auditions.

Oaks, 22, seemed anxious: his foot was shaking in anticipation as he sat cross-legged waiting to go in.

“I’m not nervous. I’m excited,” he explained, as he mentally prepared to sing Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.”

Executive producer Raff took a moment to greet the Record Gazette.

“We’d never been out here before, so we thought we’d come down,” he said, acknowledging that an NBC affiliate locally has ties to the Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa. “You never know what you’re going to find here. We had a 6-year-old perform with six vacuum cleaners. I’d never seen that before. It’s open to any age, any talent. If they missed us here, they can see us in Pasadena, or send in a video” through the America’s Got Talent Auditions website, though, he revealed, “We like to meet people, to see their personalities and talk about their life,” Raff said.

The producers were anticipating around 200 people to show up and demonstrate their talents, “which is small for us, but nice, because when they show up in L.A., they might sit around five or six hours” before artists get in to actually audition.

In a holding area, Dalilah Nunez, 19, of Desert Hot Springs waited with her father Jesse Nunez.

She had learned about the auditions from a link forwarded to her on social media.

She was practicing the song “Killing Me Softly,” and doing a pretty good rendition of it, but it wasn’t the song she was going to audition.

Instead, she was going to perform from the song “Hurt” by Christina Aguilera.

“This was last-minute for me,” she said. “I’m a little nervous. It’s normal. But I think of it as having fun.”

At the back of the room, 36-year-old John Wood, a bar back from Los Angeles, seemed to let out a heavy exhale as he prepared to invoke Axl Rose of the band Guns N’ Roses.

Considering he performs as an incarnation of Rose in the Guns N’ Roses tribute band My Michelle (video of him performing is on their website, the audition would seem to come naturally to him.

He knew that auditions would be held later closer to where he lives, but felt the competition would be a little less hectic in Cabazon.

According to Wood, who messaged the Record Gazette later to offer insight as to how it went, Wood reported, “The judging area was just five producers with notes and laptops n front, with a camera operator behind them filming. I think it went well; one producer in particular was very animated and seemed to enjoy Guns N’ Roses.”

According to Wood, “The producers were kind, and the auditions went as usual: they say your name, you get up and say your name and your talent, and then you perform for 90 seconds.”

Wood observed the four others who went in with him for auditions: “They seemed a bit nervous aside from the girl with the ukulele,” referring to Banning’s Ruehle, “who sang a sweet original. One guy did a comedy which brought out a few laughs. It was nice having other acts watch, because it’s always harder to play to an empty room.”

Overall, Wood believes, “It was a great experience and ran much smoother than expected. They said they will be watching the auditions in January to make decisions on who makes it through, and I feel confident — because I’m the best Axl Rose there is!”

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at, or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.


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