Two days before winning the Minnesota State Fair amateur talent contest’s teen division, Sunday Manisto-Saari, of Princeton, said she felt she had “already won” and didn’t care about winning the prize.
The prize turned out to be $1,000, a trophy, and being invited to help open the state fair’s talen show finals next year and she was “thrilled” to win, according to her mother.
Manisto-Saari said that victory day for her occurred on Aug. 23 when she competed in a semifinalist competition at the state fair and became a finalist in the talent contest. Manisto-Saari explained that it was a victory because it would mean she would be performing on the same grandstand stage where one of the singers she admires, Aretha Franklin, had performed. Franklin was the headliner at the grandstand on Aug. 22.
The talent contest had six finalists in the open division which is any age, and seven finalists each from the teen and preteen divisions.
There are two routes to get into the state fair talent competition. One way is to win at the county fair level. The other is to apply online to audition which is what Manisto-Saari did. An estimated 500 people auditioned in all the divisions and 140 were chosen to be semifinalists.
Princeton High School choral director Mark Potvin said not long before the finalist event that Manisto-Saari has a very strong voice.
Marty Hancer, head pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church where Manisto-Saari attends and where her mother Chris Manisto is associate pastor, said the same thing – “A powerful voice in a small package.”
Manisto said that even though she and her husband Steve Saari tried to dissuade their daughter from entering the talent contest, she persisted, taking the initiative and paying the $15 audition fee.
Manisto-Saari, who is 15 and a sophomore at Princeton High School, remembers first showing an interest in singing at age 3 when she asked her dad if she could sing along with him as he played his acoustic guitar and sang. He would do that a lot sitting on the couch, she said, and remembers that the two mostly made up the songs they sang.
She sang at the Lutheran Bible Camps during summers and for the past five years she has done special singing at Trinity Lutheran.
Last school year she was in the mixed choir at the high school and this year she will be in concert choir. Manisto-Saari has been in nearly a half dozen musicals between the middle school and high school and said she would be auditioning for the PHS musical this fall.
She says she enjoys gospel and blues music the most and that her “ultimate hero” among singers is Tina Turner.
“I really like to sing on stage,” Manisto-Saari continued. But she learned one thing from her foray into the state fair talent contest – she doesn’t like the competition part. She declared on Aug. 29 that her state fair experience would be her “first and last competition.” She explained that competing is too stressful and that she feels and that a voice shouldn’t be judged. Her selection for the state fair talent contest was “My House” from the Broadway musical “Matilda.”
“I love the whole song,” Manisto-Saari said. She explained that it has a lot of emotion in it and that a character named Miss Honey, in Matilda, sings the song which is about how much Miss Honey loves her little house.
She noted that Potvin has helped her this summer with working on her singing and helped her get into the seven-day Dorian music camp this summer at Luther College in Iowa.
Manisto-Saari said she was “very excited” last week as she anticipated the upcoming finals event.
Manisto-Saari’s career goal is to become a successful singer, singing on Broadway and maybe producing records. She also enjoys acting and dancing, has studied ballet, has taken voice lessons for a long time from the MacPhail Center for Music, and attended a circus school. She also enjoys sewing, and recently began learning to play piano.
She has been doing one more thing at this year’s state fair, the same thing she did at the fair last year – working at the fair’s Walleye on a Stick booth.
“It’s so much fun,” she said.
She said she had thought about entering last year’s state fair talent show, but “it never really happened,” and that when she looked at the website for it this year, she decided to see how far she could go.
Asked about the Mille Lacs County fair talent contest that is run each year in Princeton, where one winner in each division advances to the state fair, she said she “completely forgot” about that event.