Wellington, Fla. - After nine weeks of intense competition, the top 12 finalists battled it out on the stage last Sunday night at the 2016 American Equestrians Got Talent Finale, a fundraiser to support the United States Equestrian Team Foundation. Ultimately, it was gifted musician David Oliver Willis who took home the title of America's Most Talented Equestrian and a $10,000 grand prize courtesy of Robert Ross PA of Keller Williams Luxury Real Estate.
Representing the sport of Dressage, David Oliver Willis made his first impression on the Wellington audience during the fourth week of auditions held at the White Horse Fashion Cuisine, where he blew spectators away with his original song and rendition of Sam Cooke's 'A Change is Gonna Come,' securing his spot in the finale.
Originally from Mount Dora, Florida, Willis shared his path to the stage, beginning as a child. "I've been singing since I was a little kid in church, where my mom was a minister for years and my dad was a deacon. Sometime after high school I started taking it more seriously and playing some acoustic gigs," he commented.
As a three-time American Idol participant, Willis admitted this wasn't his first time in the limelight. "I made it to the top 20 guys category on season 12," he said.
Following his big win at the finale among 12 fierce talents, Willis divulged, "I decided to stay true to what I felt, what music I like the most, and who I am as an artist - I think that helped me win this competition in particular. The exposure here at AEGT is great and I've met so many incredible people. After this I am going to go in the studio and get my full album completed!"
In addition to his cash prize, AEGT Judge and USET supporter, Mark Bellissimo, offered Willis the opportunity to perform at his Central Park horse show in September. Last year, this same offer garnered 2015-second place finalist, Ki-Juan Minors, a record label deal with P. Diddy.
The American Equestrians Got Talent 2016 season raised close to $200,000 for the United States Equestrian Team Foundation. The donation from Juan Gando of the White Horse Fashion Cuisine totaled $31,100 from the weekly auditions. The silent auction that featured the Roadtrips trip to the Rio Olympics, as well as other impressive items, also raised vital funds to support high performance programs. Without the generosity of the sponsors, judges, donors, auction buyers, volunteers, and guests, the event would not have been such a resounding success. Thank you to Robert Dover for his support and dedication to American Equestrians Got Talent!
"What an amazing night of American Equestrians Got Talent finale!" Dover said. "I truly appreciate all our sponsors, donors, judges, contestants and volunteers, and my husband, Robert Ross, more than you can know! Thank you to Annie Cizadlo and everyone at the USET, USEF and Phelps Media Group for making the entire AEGT season a success again this year. Thank you Wellington for coming out and supporting AEGT 2016 and our high performance athletes and their programs. Go Team USA!"
13-year-old vocalist Kayden Mueller-Janssen of Wellington, Florida took home second place at Sunday night's finale winning $7,500 sponsored by Kasey Perry and Family. Regarding her whirlwind experience, she shared, "I am so happy. My dad came all the way from Europe to see me perform. He will also be coming with me to LA to support my acting and singing. Even if I didn't win, I am still proud of myself because it is such an experience. I love singing, and to be honest I wouldn't know what to do without it."
2016 third place finisher and second time AEGT finale performer, Robert Gallardo wowed the judges with his seemingly gravity-defying dance moves. The talented dancer won $5,000 sponsored by Pat Stemple and Roundabout Stables LLC. Gallardo was pleased with his third place finish and looks forward to returning to the stage next year to showcase his self-taught talents.
Rounding out the top four was groom and vocalist, Teaghan James. She received $2,500. James was encouraged to compete by recording artist, Ki-Juan Minors, with whom she performs with regularly.
Minors returned to the AEGT stage prior to Sunday's finale as an opener, and announced his album will be hopefully be available later this year.
Other openers included the Charlie Tota Band, AEGT 2015 Winner Brian Lookabill, and Felippe Biatti, an American Idol competitor and opener for One Direction.
The atmosphere of the night was electric. The culmination of an impressive list of unique auction items, delicious food provided by White Horse Catering seven esteemed guest judges and a beautiful venue, made this event a smash-hit.
The United States Equestrian Team Foundation (www.uset.org) is the non-profit organization that supports the competition, training, coaching, travel and educational needs of America's elite and developing international, high-performance horses and athletes in partnership with the United States Equestrian Federation.