Friday, Feb. 25, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
Map of Desert Pines
3800 Harris Ave., Las Vegas
Lunch at Desert Pines High School: the bell rings, and students slowly pour into the school’s open courtyard. The initial drumbeats of a hip-hop hit draw them to one corner where junior Angell Fernandez is manning a DJ station. An open space is roped off for some of the school’s most talented students to show their skills.
Welcome to Desert Pines Talent Search, courtesy of KJAG Radio and the pupils in the radio broadcasting program at this magnet school near the corner of Pecos Road and Harris Avenue in the eastern valley.
It's not like this every lunch period. The weekly contest started Feb. 3, much to the delight of the student population.
The finals were held during lunch Thursday, as the four remaining contestants -- whittled down from 55 at the first show -- vied for the roars of the crowd and the approval of three teacher-judges.
More than 100 students gathered at the caution tape surrounding the stage, and others took seats along two stairwells and a balcony overlooking the performers. They cheered as sophomore Salvador Lopez gyrated to the whims of a pulsing techno beat and clapped when Alina Perez, a junior, launched into the chorus of an R&B ballad.
The American Idol-esque competition — which has featured guitar soloists, comedians, singers and dancers — has become “more than we expected,” Karina Morales, the broadcasting student who first suggested it, said.
“There are a lot of people that have unknown talent in our school,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to be this big.”
“Lunch is kind of boring. It get old every day,” Fernandez explained matter-of-factly from behind the soundboard. The grand prize of an iPod touch also helped raise the stakes. “It’s cool to see your friends out there competing. It’s been crazy.”
Instructor Michael Gough, who heads the school's radio broadcasting program, said he saw it as an opportunity to broaden the KJAG brand. He agreed with Morales’ assessment: Because of the response they’ve seen, Gough hopes to hold one to three Talent Searches each year. (They would look for sponsors to provide the prizes, he said.)
It also gives his students an opportunity for real-world experience. The class took Gough and Morales’ idea and organized a major event that has attracted most of Desert Pines’ students to one corner of the courtyard for the last four Thursdays. The faculty has taken part as well, Gough said, with a rotating panel of three judges presiding over each show.
“If you tape up signs and put up a DJ booth, people will come,” Gough said. “For these kids, this is what they have … And everyone knows us now. If you walk down the halls, you won’t find a student who doesn’t know KJAG.”
Marisa Denton, a senior who might otherwise seem to be a perfectly tranquil student, shredded through the guitar solos of Heart, Metallica and Slayer. The self-taught guitarist said her friends urged her to participate when KJAG announced the competition — she’d never before played in front of an audience.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Denton said. “But then your adrenaline starts going. People start cheering, and it’s a good feeling.”
After the crowd hooted and hollered to support their favorite talent, Denton finished in second behind Lopez, who won over his peers with a well-choreographed and energetic performance.
Gough nodded in approval as the students cleared the courtyard, off to their next class. “It’s been incredible,” he said.
Those interested can listen to KJAG Radio, the only radio station produced by Clark County students, online: live365.com/stations/kjag.