The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 2, 2013

North Mankato girl makes Grandstand appearance

Singer describes performance before 5,000 as "nerve-wracking"

By Dan Nienaber

It was just minutes before 12-year-old Lauren Senden had to check in for the biggest performance of her life and she wasn't where she wanted to be Sunday afternoon.

The Minnesota State Fair Grandstand was at one end of the fairgrounds while she and her mother were pulling into a parking lot on the other end. The two collected their thoughts and did the only thing they could do. They started sprinting through the streets, dodging the thousands of people more concerned about gobbling fried food than getting out of the way of a State Fair Amateur Talent Contest finalist.

“We were almost late for the (pre-show) meeting so we had to run across the State Fair,” Senden said Monday morning, long enough after her Sunday night performance to giggle about the experience.

“Then we got to the stage and it was so huge. Mom talked to me and calmed me down, but Dad was still stuck in traffic with my dress.”

Senden, of North Mankato, was one of three people from the Mankato region to make it to the annual Amateur Talent Contest finals. She earned a third-place finish in the Preteen Division with her show tune “Gimme Gimme” from the Broadway musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Britton Pankratz of Mountain Lake and Sarah Mitchell of Waseca also made it to the finals, both in the Teen Division. Pankratz also earned a third-place finish with her yo-yo performance. Mitchell, who played the piano and sang “That Wasn't Me” by Brandi Carlile, didn't place in the finals.

Senden and her parents, Jim and Lynell, had been staying at a hotel near the fairgrounds since Thursday. Lauren didn't have to compete in the semi-finals at the Leinie Lodge Bandshell until Saturday night, but she had a friend competing in the talent show who she wanted to watch Thursday.

There are two ways to make it to the semi-finals. One is to advance by winning at a county fair talent show, but you don't have to live in the county where you enter. The other is to audition at the fairgrounds at the end July. Last year Senden went the county fair route and didn't make it to the finals. This year she went to the July audition and was one of the 30 people selected to advance out of a pool of more than 100 pre-teen competitors.

“She made it to the State Fair last year through the Le Sueur County Fair, but she placed second,” Lynell Senden said. “She's worked very hard this year. We went to the finals last year to see what it was like. When we were sitting in the Grandstand, she looked at her dad and said, 'I'm going to make it next year.' And she did.”

Lauren Senden described the experience of performing in front of a crowd of 5,000 people as “nerve-wracking.” Once she started singing and interacting with the crowd, though, her nerves settled and the event became fun, she said.

Senden is young but she isn't a stage rookie. She's performed in productions of Annie and The Sound of Music at Minnesota State University. She also participated in a summer camp at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, which included four performances.

It was still intimidating to see all the talent she had to compete against before advancing to the finals, Senden said.

“I had a pretty good idea I was going to make it through the auditions,” she said. “Then when I got to the Leinie Lodge that was scary because the talent was so much better and they played guitars and wrote their own songs.

“I was so excited when they said North Mankato at the end. I ran up to the stage so fast I was already standing there when she said my name.”

Jim Senden said the family was exhausted by the experience, but that didn't mean they were about to return home Monday. They planned to enjoy the last day of the State Fair.

This time they were going to avoid the sprinting and enjoy some tasty fair food of their own.