Soboba Lip Sync Contest Showcases Local Talent

The Ramona Bowl Amphitheatre won the top prize of $10,000 at the Soboba Foundation and Soboba Casino Resort 14th annual Lip Sync Contest for local nonprofits, June 17. | Photos courtesy of Robert A. Whitehead

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians | Contributed

From relevant song choices to synchronized choreography and spot-on costuming, all 13 nonprofits vying for prize money at the Soboba Foundation & Soboba Casino Resort’s 14th annual Lip Sync Contest made an impact on the 600-plus guests in attendance. A spectacular buffet offering a variety of fresh foods lined the Event Center lobby. Guests enjoyed a feast of fine dining capped with an over-the-top dessert bar pleasing those with even the most discerning sweet tooth.

The entertainment spectacular attracted an enthusiastic audience to the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center on June 17. Co-hosts Andrew Vallejos and Catherine “Cat” Modesto kept the show moving while soliciting comments from judges and others after each performance. Everyone was raving about the quality of the acts and had many positive things to say, even for those that were competing against the nonprofit they were there to support.

“I really enjoyed the show behind the show,” Tony Davalos, who drove in from Cathedral City again this year to support the event, said. “Watching Andrew’s face as he reacts to things unfolding live on stage is so much fun. Between him and the acts themselves, it’s impossible to look away; thoroughly entertaining.”

Returning judges Bella Da Ball and Debby Alexander both are very well known in the Palm Springs area for their many community contributions. Soboba Tribal members Michelle Modesto and Joey Placencia have been involved with the competition in the past and know what it takes to engage the crowd in a fun and meaningful way. Joe Hallgren was the fifth judge.

This year’s performers went into the competition vying for cash prizes that the Soboba Foundation members decided to double right before the show started, giving the groups even more incentive to pull out all the stops.

Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas thought all the acts were well thought out with each organization bringing out their passion and leaving it all on the stage.

“Andrew, of course, was on point,” she said. “Being a former judge myself, it isn’t an easy task. Newcomer Michelle Modesto with her charisma and passionate comments was a breath of fresh air.”

American Cancer Society, Relay for Life took second place at the Soboba Lip Sync Contest as well as the newly created award for Crowd Favorite.

When everything was said and done, first place and $10,000 went to the Ramona Bowl Amphitheatre. American Cancer Society, Relay For Life earned $5,000 for second place and third-place honors and $3,000 was given to Boxing For Christ. There was a tie for fourth place of MilVet and Valley Community Pantry who partnered with Veterans Mobility Project; both groups received $2,000 each.

New this year was a $500 Crowd Favorite award, in addition to any other cash prize they received. Each table was given a QR code to scan so they could vote as many times as they wanted for and the American Cancer Society, Relay For Life team won with 1,178 votes.

“Having the crowd vote for their favorite was the perfect addition to the night,” Silvas said.

Cathi Hill, Senior Development Manager for American Cancer Society Inc. West Region, said this year’s lip sync battle was epic as always.

“Each year the Soboba Foundation and the Soboba Casino Resort, along with the amazing Andrew Vallejos give the audience a show that people can talk about until next year,” she said. “I could not have been prouder of ‘my boys’ (as I call them) for bringing in the second-place win along with the fan favorite. Winning the fan favorite was a perfect way for the boys to feel the love the audience has for them. Congratulations to the Ramona Bowl for their first-place win and to all the performers of the night on rocking the Lip Sync stage.”

All other contestants received $1,000 each and were noted for their special contributions. The groups competed in random order. San Jacinto Unified School District offered “The Thriller Experience” with their own rendition of Michael Jackson and his zombie dance troupe. They were awarded “Most Entertaining” by the judges who also applauded their great costumes and makeup.

“What an exciting way to kick off this beautiful event,” Bella Da Ball said.

Gale Hill, who is the district’s Executive Assistant to the Superintendent & Board, said this is one of her favorite events.

“I was really proud of SJUSD; I thought they did a great job,” she said. “The whole event is fun and you never know what to expect. Andrew and Cat are the best and I love their sense of humor.”

Global Society for Female Entrepreneurs inspires, empowers, mentors, educates and connects women so they can learn from and support each other. Lip Syncing to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” and “She Works Hard for the Money” by Donna Summer while dancing up a storm, the two performers were awarded “Best Choreography.”

Judge Joey Placencia thought their outfits were great and Debby Alexander liked how well they played off each other throughout the routine.

Let Them Be Little Feline Rescue is a San Jacinto Valley nonprofit that works to reduce euthanasia rates by rescuing underage and at-risk cats and kittens and placing them into loving foster homes until they are ready to go to their forever family. They performed “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass and captured the “Best Costumes” award.

Judge Michelle Modesto is a big cat lover and thought the song choice and routine was great as it stressed the importance of adoption.

The Hemet San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce was awarded “Most Creative” for their rendition of “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus. Line dancing Chamber members stole the show while stepping out in their blue jeans, chaps, cowboy hats and boots.

“I could tell you were all thrilled to be up there and not afraid to move on that stage,” Bella said. An audience member commented that their act made her want to get up and dance.

Karena Zermeno was one of the backup dancers who got lots of positive feedback from the judges and audience. She said, “Performing for a great cause that benefits nonprofits here in our valley has become in my opinion the staple of our community. Soboba has done an amazing job putting this together for the past 14 years and every nonprofit in the valley looks forward to either participating or attending this great event. I am very grateful to have such a great supporter of our valley as Soboba is and has been.”

The San Jacinto Education Foundation was chosen as having the “Best Props” as they depicted a baseball game between the San Jacinto High School Tigers and crosstown rivals, the Hemet High Bulldogs. “Singing” John Fogerty’s “Centerfield,” Foundation president Jerry Peebles was able to defeat the opposing team with his amazing catch.

“This was so much fun and I love the great message, especially for the education foundation that takes care of kids and teachers; you all showed great passion,” Bella said. Michelle Modesto added that she loved seeing all the alumni on stage as she herself attended local schools “from Hyatt Tigers to San Jacinto Tigers.”

Vallejos was in the audience and asked Cyndi Lemke, Hemet San Jacinto Chamber Executive Director, for a comment. She said that being a Hemet Bulldog in high school, she felt like she was in the game with this performance.

Harold W. Hyland American Legion Post 53 helps all military veterans receive healthcare and file necessary claims with the Federal government. They give guidance to all vets and made their point by performing Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” which was voted “Most Dramatic.”

“Holy Moly! Great job, great song,” judge Hallgren said. Bella told lead “singer” Valerie Vandever that she loved the energy and could see the passion on her face. “Another great message song that tied into all our great heroes,” she said.

The Post’s Commander and Hemet City Council Member Joe Males thanked Soboba for the great job they did for everyone that competed. “I am not a performer and was participating for our brothers and sisters of the American Legion to do my part in bringing in the funds that help our veterans, but I enjoyed myself very much,” he said, adding that the entire event was “A+ entertainment and should have been televised.”

Vandever returned to the stage to front the team representing Soroptimist International San Jacinto Hemet Valley to perform “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” by Selena. With a name that translates from Latin to mean “best for women” the Soroptimist group brings together girls of all ages, empowering them to be the best they can be. The group was given the “Most Original” award.

The Greater San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce had Sharon Durbin take center stage alone to perform a stirring rendition of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” Her performance was given “Best Song” honors.

“Bravo to do a ballad like that,” Placencia said. Bella said she could feel the emotion and said, “For you to represent your entire organization in front of hundreds of people, I salute you.” Debby Alexander said she started to think she was a real singer and Hallgren said she “nailed it.”

The top winners put on remarkable performances and were justly rewarded for their efforts. The Ramona Bowl Amphitheatre is preparing for the 100th season of the Ramona Outdoor Play in April of 2023. The Amphitheatre board stays busy all year long with seasonal and entertaining events at the iconic venue in the Hemet Hills. Frank Jaramillo, who has shared his incredible dance moves for many years on the Lip Sync stage, scored this year with his presentation of Queen’s classic song, “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Frank was applauded by the judges for his stage presence and connection with the audience. “He is a superstar, this is what it’s all about,” Michelle Modesto said.

Males said, “I enjoyed being around fun people who were in it to win it. I couldn’t believe the acts that performed; they put so much into their performances. But when Frank Jaramillo with the Ramona Bowl performed ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen, he set the house on fire.”

The fan favorite Smooth “boy band” that has represented American Cancer Society, Relay For Life and won first place in past contests, gave their farewell performance with a medley of songs. The Society’s mission is to save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer. The Relay for Life of Riverside County East will be Sept. 24.

Their rhythm and blues flavored dance routine was a big hit. The foursome said they started putting the act together about two weeks after last year’s show and practiced once a week for three months to get it perfected.

“This year when I stepped into the grand ballroom, my emotions were all over the place,” Hill said. “My boys had made the decision to retire the act. As I watched the acts perform, I knew the competition was going to be tough this year. All the acts really brought their A game to battle it out, and it showed. My boys never disappoint and take control of the stage each year, and this year was no different. I watched them with such pride and gratitude in my heart.”

A quartet of talented ladies brought sass and confidence to the stage to score a knockout for Boxing for Christ, a program and curriculum that focuses on character and leadership development.

“I think you gave the boy band a run for their money,” Cat Modesto said. Alexander said their performance was impressive with all the different dance sequences they utilized for each song which was a medley of inspiring tunes.

The nonprofit’s founder, Sonia Ramos, had competed under other nonprofit’s umbrellas in the past but said it was a great feeling to be able to participate for the first time for Boxing for Christ and take third place.

“We really worked hard,” she said. “This is one of the biggest events in the valley that brings nonprofits and the community together to let loose and have a good time. You get to see the fun part of people and not just all business. Overall, it’s an amazing event and we will definitely be participating next year. A big thank you to Soboba for bringing the whole community together to have a good time.”

MilVet supports active-duty men and women overseas and veterans and their families in Riverside County. They expertly transitioned for a medley of songs, including “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes that tied into their ongoing project of sending care packages to troops.

After thanking them for their service, Hallgen said, “I love how you picked songs that parlayed into your mission. You obviously spent a lot of time on your choreography.” Judge Alexander agreed the synchronized group dancing was on point and thought their use of props was truly amazing.

The Valley Community Pantry is going on its 57th year of serving those in need. During the past two years, they have provided more than 1.2 million pounds of food to clients as well as more than $200,000 in rental, utility and other assistance. They partnered with Veterans Mobility Project for their second appearance, which is committed to helping soldiers regain some of the freedom they fought so hard for. The organizations teamed up and feel blessed and honored to be able to serve the valley and do God’s work. This was reflected in their rendition of “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me.

“Last year we were awarded ‘Most Original’ which we thought was great for our first time,” Valley Community Pantry Executive Director Jim Lineberger said. “We did not think we would win as all we try to do is get our message out and it must have had an impact as we took the fourth-place award. This event not only provides some type of monetary donation, but it is a great event in regards to having fun and seeing some great talent.

“Many nonprofit organizations are very blessed to have the support of the Soboba Foundation, which I like to refer to as the Soboba Family,” he said. “What an honor in memory of Rose Salgado, who started this event 14 years ago, to continue this fun and exciting event. We plan on being back next year.”

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