Wednesday, March 6, 2013

UNO Lakefront Arena Hosts America's Got Talent

Lakefront Arena at the University of New Orleans rolled out the red carpet on Monday as celebrity judges appeared for the taping of final auditions for season eight of the NBC reality show America's Got Talent.

Supermodel Heidi Klum, shock jock Howard Stern, comedian Howie Mandel and former Spice Girl Mel B promenaded and posed for crowds and cameras outside the Lakefront Arena. Host Nick Cannon rode a Mardi Gras-style parade float through the Arena parking lot accompanied by the PussyFooters and Victory Belles, scantily dressed all-female marching groups regularly seen strutting in the city's Mardi Gras parades.

The two days of tryouts held at the Senator Nat G. Kiefer University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena on Franklin Avenue allowed for the videotaping of about 60 select acts, according to news reports. The four tapings at UNO followed a Monday morning surprise network announcement that Klum would be joining the series as judge. In an unusual twist, AGT producers filmed two acts on sand outside the Arena and another two acts in the Arena's Aquatic Center and expressed appreciation of the versatility and accommodations of the venue.

This week's tapings followed an emotional month for at least 2,500 performers from the greater New Orleans area and around the nation who flocked in mid-February to open call auditions at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Musicians, dancers, magicians, comedians, singers, jugglers and animal acts with auditions gave 90-second performances February 15-16 hoping to catch producers' eyes in AGT's nationwide search for eight contestants to participate in season eight of the NBC series.

More than 3,000 free tickets were issued to guests who attended noon and 5 p.m. tapings Monday and Tuesday at Lakefront Arena, said Marco Perez, general manager of the Lakefront Arena. Students from local public high schools were bussed in to enjoy the noon tapings.

Months of planning went into the event, said Perez, who is also gearing up for next month's videotaped auditions for X-Factor, a television music competition created by Simon Cowell.

AGT celebrity judges enjoyed spending time in Spotlights, a lounge at the arena that was used this week as the AGT Judges Lounge, Perez said. The celebrities also had access to star suites and rented star trailers.

"Every event is a learning experience for us and this was not the exception." Perez said. "We do a huge array of events at the Lakefront Arena and we are pleased we were able to add this to our repertoire. The AGT leadership was pleased with Lakefront Arena and mentioned that we were one of the best venues they have been in, and added, 'and we have been in a lot!'"

Event planning for major concert productions, family shows, sporting events and blockbuster movie filmings falls under the job description of the Lakefront Arena's general manager.

Since December, the University of New Orleans and Lakefront Arena have hosted the production of three major films, including Grudge Match, a Warner Brothers boxing comedy starring Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone as former prize fighters who have an old score to settle. Grudge Match was filmed last week at the arena and demanded a boxing ring on the arena floor and a huge production rigging system for the elaborate lighting needed, Perez said.

In December, the filming of MTV movie Made 2: Ladies Man meant that the University Center on main campus temporarily wore banners from the fictional University of Central Indiana. Scenes were filmed across campus, in the arena and around the arena pool. "Kristy," a Harvey Weinstein film now being referred to as "Satanic," brought film crews to UNO in mid-winter too. Filming of blockbusters can bring demands that range from overnight shoots to a need for a police detail, according to Mike Berthelot, who over sees UNO Campus Booking and oversees filming on campus with direction from Perez.

"Taping of televised shows is a unique beast," said Perez. "We must carefully balance the needs of every entity of the show ― audience handlers, 'reality creators' (who engineered this week's Mardi Gras parade and Red Carpet arrival), production, marketing, PR, and the various mechanics of the show. It is vastly time consuming, but highly rewarding in the end. Having a small staff makes it a greater challenge, but I am proud of my crew and the miracles they were able to pull off."