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A capella group takes New York state senior talent contest

The Tribunes, a Hicksville-based a cappella quintet, were the winners of the 2017 NYS 50+ Senior Idol contest on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 in Huntington. The event, a talent competition for people age 50 and older, drew more than 300 people to Huntington High School for an evening of singing, tap dancing, comedy and bongo drums. Credit: Johny Milano

The Tribunes, a Hicksville-based a capella quintet, shook rattled and rolled their way to victory at the 2017 state Senior Idol contest on Sunday in Huntington.

The event, a talent competition for the AARP crowd, drew more than 300 people to Huntington High School for an evening of singing, tap dancing, comedy and bongo drums.

Using only their voices for harmony, bass and percussion, The Tribunes wowed judges with their rendition of, “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” and an encore performance of, “Over the Rainbow.”

Band members said they felt, “ecstatic” after winning.

“You enter into something like this not knowing what the outcome is going to be,” said group member Shelly Wengrovsky, 68, of Mattituck. “You do your best. We enjoyed all the talent today and we’re surprised – very happily.”

In addition to Wengrovsky, the group includes: Les Levine, 74, of Fresh Meadows; Peter De Benedetto, 70, of Hicksville; Mike Cuomo, 71, of Hicksville; and Hutch, 71, of Seaford – who goes by one name.

Judges held auditions over several weeks leading up to the final contest, whittling the field of about 70 competitors to the 20 semifinalists who performed Sunday. The competition included a Mark Twain impersonator, a dancer who seemed to be channeling Tina Turner and a bevy of singers.

After all 20 competitors performed, the judges narrowed the field to three finalists before naming the winner.

“The judges had to make some extremely difficult choices from some very talented people,” said Frank Trotta, publisher of 50 Plus Lifestyles magazine, which co-sponsors the NYS 50+ event with the Ms. NY Senior America pageant.

The winners received $1,000, a trophy – and all the glory of being reigning idol.

Trotta said organizers sought to elicit the untapped talent in the local over-50 crowd.

The 2017 competition is the first since 2008, Trotta said. Organizers took a break from the competition for nine years but brought it back this year after receiving “a flood of inquiries” in the past two years.

“These people don’t have a forum,” he said. “Sometimes you’re talking to someone and you really have no clue what they’re holding inside. To have someone bring that out is really incredible to watch.”

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