Twirler Grace Wood wins Iowa State Fair Talent Search

Grace Wood suffered second-degree burns to her hands as a child after catching a flaming baton in the wrong place. She said she was too scared to pick up batons for almost a decade after the accident.

Sunday afternoon on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage in front of a crowd at the Iowa State Fair, however, Wood was fearless. In a yellow suit adorned with sparkles and fringe, she juggled up to three lit batons in one go. When she grabbed that last flaming stick, she said she knew this time she crushed it.

Wood, of Indianola, won the grand champion award at the 62nd Annual Bill Riley Talent Search, which included a trophy and $10,000 prize. Wood competed alongside eight other talented entrants from across the state. The talent show performers headed to the championship competition after a week of preliminary competitions and semi-finals at the fair.

Although she may have suffered a slight burn on the back of her shoulder midway through, Wood said her adrenaline was surging and she couldn’t even feel it.

Grace Wood, 20, of Indianola performs a twirling routine with fire in the senior division during the 62nd Bill Riley Talent Search Finals on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday, August 21, 2022 in Des Moines.

The moment she grabbed the trophy in her hands, she said she was in complete shock.

“I’ve been on this stage since I was six years old,” she said, trophy in hand. “Even beyond just winning, ending my competitive twirling career on this stage truly means more to me than any other batting competition or performance I could put on.”

Wood, now a 20-year-old student at Iowa State and a twirler for the University of Iowa Cyclone Marching Band, said she’s performed at the Iowa State Fair her entire life. A Sprout champion at 10 and again at 12, Wood said she returned to the Anne and Bill Riley stage on Sunday to redeem herself.

“My last shows when I was a Sprout didn’t sit well with me,” she said. The large crowd, the cameras and the added pressure caused her to drop her batons and leave the stage disappointed, she said.

“So I came in today thinking, ‘OK, it’s been ten years. Let’s make it up, Grace. You’re older now, you can do this,'” she said.

After her near-perfect performance, assisted by her mother Denise Wood who lit the fire batons, Wood said she felt like she had finally accomplished the performance she had worked for nearly a decade.

Grace Wood, 20, of Indianola performs a twirling routine in the senior division during the 62nd Bill Riley Talent Search Finals on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday, August 21, 2022 in Des Monks.  The artists compete in two groups, Sprouts (2-12 years old) and Seniors (13-21 years old).  Over $20,000 was donated to the Sprouts and Senior Divisions combined.

“It’s just a relief to be really proud of my performance today,” she said.

Wood comes from a long line of talented twirlers. His great-grandmother first took over in the 1950s, and his mother also spun for Iowa State University when she was in college, Wood said. Wood and his mother also help coach his younger sister and their twirling team, which Wood says recently won a national title.

As she looks ahead to her next two years as Cyclone, Wood said she’s honored to carry on this legendary family tradition and continue to spread the spirit of the Iowa State School.

“It’s always been what it’s been about for me since I was a little girl,” she said.

Various talents enter the scene

The 62nd Annual Talent Search presented a bit of everything for the public on Sunday afternoon.

“From trumpets to tap dancing, you’re going to see it all on this iconic stage tonight,” said Channel 5’s new We Are Iowa host Jackie Schmillen. Schmillen succeeded Bill Riley Jr., who retired last year.

After:Final Arc: After 25 years, Bill Riley Jr. hosts his latest talent search – but he’s not quitting the show entirely

While Wood’s flips and spins won first prize, there was a close battle for second place – so close, in fact, that the judges just couldn’t decide.

Singer and trumpeter Isaac Morlan, 18, of Cedar Falls and the clogging quintet of Lynsey Countryman, 18, Allison Reinking, 17, Hannah O’Connell, 18,

Anna Heck, 19, and McKenzie Goodwin, 19, of Moville, Kingsley and Anthon tied for second place, each taking home a $5,000 prize.

Grace Kiple, 21, of Sergeant Bluff performs a vocal and guitar solo in the Senior Division during the 62nd Bill Riley Talent Search Finals on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday, August 21, 2022 in Monks.

In addition to the winners, the senior category competition, for 13-21 year olds, also included:

  • An acrobatic dance routine from Urbandale residents Aubrey Klipfel, 13, Betsy Lehman, 13 and Ella Varley, 12;
  • A passionate vocal performance of “If I Can Dream” by 21-year-old Carter Hayden of Blairstown;
  • A graceful and athletic lyrical dance performance by Bailey Miller, 21, from Gowrie;
  • Ann Emotion rendition of ‘She Used to be Mine’ from the musical ‘Waitress’ by singer and guitarist Grace Kiple, 21, of Sargeant Bluff
  • An elegant dance performance by Alivia Rediske, 14, Alexa Rediske, 16, of Polk City;
  • and a moving and passionate rendition of “And I am Telling You” by 14-year-old singer Aleesha Smith of Waterloo.
Aleesha Smith, 14, of Waterloo performs a vocal solo in the Senior Division during the 62nd Annual Bill Riley Talent Search Finals on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday August 21, 2022 in Des Moines.

The Sprout Champions wow the crowd

As the jury went to deliberate on the results of the senior competition, the Sprout Champions took to the stage to show off their skills.

The Sprout competition was open to participants aged 2 to 12. The eight champions featured on Sunday were selected in the semi-finals and each won a $500 prize.

Sprout Champion Dawson Huinker, 12, of West Des Moines performs a vocal solo during the 62nd Bill Riley Talent Search Finals on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday August 21, 2022 in Des Moines.  The artists compete in two groups, Sprouts (2-12 years old) and Seniors (13-21 years old).

Younger performances included:

  • A personality-filled tap trio by 10-year-old Monroe Eischeid of Manning, 11-year-old Elly Houston of Denison and 11-year-old Sophia Hodne of Irwin;
  • A lyrical dance performance by Addi Leonard of Stuart, 12;
  • A lively musical theater performance of “Giants in the Sky” from the musical “Into the Woods” by 12-year-old Corban McHone of Fort Dodge;
  • A ballet solo by 12-year-old dancer Catie Christenson of Urbandale;
  • A cheerful rendition of “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” by singer and guitarist Grace Holmbeck, 12, of Sibley;
  • A fun tap-dancing performance by the trio Kinley Oberhaus, 10, Bayleigh Sieverding, 10, and Kinidi Struck, 10, of Davenport;
  • A jazz duo consisting of 11-year-old Norwalk residents Preston Martin and Arianna Bowen;
  • and a medley by singer Dawson Huinker, 12, of West Des Moines.
Alivia Rediske, 14, and Alexa Rediske, 16, of Polk City perform a lyrical duet in the Senior Division during the 62nd Annual Bill Riley Talent Search Finals on the Anne and Bill Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday, August 21, 2022, in Des Moines.

Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @francescablock3.

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