It's no secret Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, besides his pull to politics, has a love of music and performing.
Back in 1977, when Costas was a student on vacation break from St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, he was in Arizona to spend time with his college roommate and his family. He wrote a song called "Gong Show Blues," and decided to contact the show's producers to tell them about his tune tribute to the popular silly talent competition aired on NBC from 1976 to 1980 and hosted by Chuck Barris.
The producers decided to invite the 20-year-old to appear as one of the acts on the show, and invited him to Hollywood.
After three casting calls of auditions, he appeared on the series singing his song, while playing the guitar before judges Jaye P. Morgan, who just turned 81 last month, actor Anson Williams from "Happy Days" and Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Today's NBC equivalent of "The Gong Show" is their popular show "America's Got Talent."
Roz Jordon, the supervising casting producer for "America's Got Talent," wants the Times readership to know her staff is headed to Chicago this weekend looking for would-be stars.
"I not only loved 'The Gong Show,' I was on that show when I was part of a kid performing group," Jordan told me when we chatted by phone this week.
"It was a great experience, but 'America's Got Talent' is even so much better for anyone launching a performing career."
And compared to the $712.05 awarded to the top contestant on "The Gong Show," it's a shot at $1 million on NBC's top-rated summer series "America’s Got Talent," up for grabs.
This latest nationwide search has already spanned visits to 10 cities, prior to arriving in the Windy City this weekend and then finishing the casting with a last stop in New Orleans.
The net cast for Season Eight contestants includes the auditions all-day and into the night this Saturday and Sunday at McCormick Place in Chicago.
"We will see everyone and stay until we are done," Jordon said.
"Even if someone arrives five minutes before the posted time we are supposed to wrap-up, we'll wait to see them. And unlike other shows, this is a one shot audition of up to 90 seconds in front of our judging panels. There are no call backs. If you're selected, it happens right then and you're headed to the show."
Last season the show discovered what Jordon describes as "unprecedented and unique talent." with finalists that included a comedian, a family dog act and a one-of-a-kind musical instrument.
The pre-registration forms, audition tips and a full list of details with all venue information are found at AGTauditions.com.
"America's Got Talent" is also the only talent competition show open to any age and any talent.
She said every type of performer is welcome, including musicians, dance crews, magicians, contortionists, comedians, singers, jugglers, animal acts and "everything in between."
"We didn't make it to Chicago for auditions last season, so we wanted to come back this time," she said.
The next season of "America's Got Talent," created by Simon Cowell's SYCO Television, airs May 5. So far, Jordon told me the only announced judge who is definitely returning to the series when it airs is Howard Stern, with the rest of the celebrity panel to be announced soon.