Ultimate Miami series highlights local talent

A probation officer, a barber and a high school teacher walk into a bar…

No, this is not the set up for a joke. This is the set up for the Ultimate Miami series, a competition that lets locals with big talent moonlight for the chance to win a $5,000 purse in five categories: Voice, Comedy, Bartender, Dessert and Drag.

Now in its third year, the competition, hosted by the Magic City Casino at Stage 305, scours South Florida to bring below the radar local acts out for a chance to shine, potentially win a big fat check, and add opening for the night’s headliner to their resume.

The competition begins this Friday at Stage 305 at the Magic City Casino with Voice, the field narrowed down to 12 singers after a series of preliminary rounds around town. Along with the probation officer (Octavus Terry Cummings), barber (Abraham Ruiz) and high school teacher (Adriel Orlando Garcia), 28-year-old waiter Jose Urbina, will take the stage in the contest. The Miami native was runner up in 2013  and says this year is all about stage presence. “Last year everyone sang ballads, but this year we are going to be singing more uptempo songs, so people are going to have to up their game.” 

Saturday night the competition shifts to comedy, with 11 local comics competing in a series of lightning rounds. Miami native John Vargas (27), whose 9-to-5 is Delivery Manager for Lowes Hardware, has been doing stand-up in open mics around Miami for over a decade and will try his luck at the comedy contest this year. “Last year I had an off night, so I didn’t get past the preliminaries. But this year, I’m ready.” Each comic gets three minutes in round one to get laughs, then the audience picks their three favorites and the judges get to send two to the next round.

The following weekend Ultimate Miami hosts competitions that will bring out those who love fancy cocktails, decadent desserts and lip syncing drag divas. Friday night is the Bartender/Dessert competition. Mixologists like John Lermayer from the Regent cocktail Club and Alexander Nayda from the Electric Pickle along with six others will go head to head to see who can concoct the most innovative cocktail. The pastry chefs compete Friday as well with Gilbert Arriaza from Gilbert’s Bakery, Esty Frometa from Nordstrom Cafe Bistro and John Martinez from the Fontainebleau Hotel on the roster of eight chefs. This event is not for the calorie counters: Everyone gets a taste of each cocktail and dessert.

Saturday, June 14, is the Drag Queen competition with six local divas including Tiffany Fantasia, TP Lords and Gabriella Giovante facing off in a battle of fabulousness.

The judges of the competitions include NBC6’s Trina Robinson and 610AM Radio’s Manny Munoz, with a squad of guest judges for each of the categories including Jon Secada (Voice) and ’90s pop princess Tiffany (Drag).

All four of the competitions will be followed by live shows: Friday night’s Voice competition includes a show by freestyle legends Cynthia and Johnny O; Saturday’s Ultimate Miami Comedian show is capped with stand up by Pablo Francisco, the man of a thousand sound effects. The Bartender & Dessert event, taking place June 13, is followed by a performance by rap hero Rob Base and freestyle divas Debbie Deb and Lisette Melendez. The Drag Queen competition on June 14 will be punctuated with a show by Cher impersonator Chad Michaels from “RuPaul’s All Star Drag Race” and a concert by Evelyn “Champagne” King.

Voice contestant Uribe concedes that some attendees may be in it for the headliners, but audiences are in for a night of surprises. “Some people just want to sit through the competition to see the famous people. But I think that people that go are going to discover someone that they will want to see more of in the future.”

Organizers consider the event more than just a competition, but an investment in South Floridian talent. A wise investment, says Vargas. “I’d use the money to pay off bills. T-Mobile would throw me a party if I win.”