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USU freshman serenades Jay Leno on ‘The Tonight Show’

April 7th, 2012 Posted in Opinion

By Kristi Ottley

HOLLYWOOD—It was Kinzie Hamilton’s brush with the Big Time, her 15 minutes of fame, her late-night TV debut.

The USU freshman from Providence, Utah, appeared on “The Tonight Show” Tuesday, standing right next to Jay Leno in front of her mother and an international audience, singing like the original Snow White.

“I had an absolute blast,” she says.

Hamilton, a broadcast journalism major, is no stranger to public performance, although her audience as a student newscaster for Utah Public Radio is generally smaller—and not in person.

Hamilton, 19, was one of three audience members selected to share their “special talent” for the Leno show’s “Meal or No Meal” feature, in which a panel of celebrity judges decide if the talent is special enough to win the contestant a free restaurant meal.

Kinzie’s “talent” is that she can sing just like Snow White in the original 1937 Disney cartoon. “I’m wishing, I’m wishing, for the one I love….”

• Here’s Kinzie’s Tonight Show TV debut—go to 8:16 for the “Meal” segment, or to minute 13 for Kinzie Hamilton’s performance.

Here’s how it happened: While on Spring Break in Los Angeles last month, Hamilton and three friends attended a taping of the Leno show.

“Everyone [in line] was handed a blue paper that asked for some basic information and whether you had an interesting or unique talent,” she said. “Nothing came to mind at first—I didn’t think I could do anything cool, but I can do an impression of the Disney Snow White singing, ‘I’m Wishing.’ I wrote it down.”

After the show, a producer called four names, including Hamilton’s. Backstage, a Leno staffer recorded them talking or performing their talents on an iPhone. Producers would call any they wanted to appear on an upcoming show.

Three weeks later, Kinzie was back on campus when her cell phone rang. “How’s Snow White doing?” she heard. The producer asked her to fly to LA to perform her unique talent in just five days. She and her mother went to Hollywood Monday, greeted by some pretty fancy treatment. They had their own driver and got to spend a day at Universal Studios.

After Leno’s opening monologue (at 8 minutes, 19 seconds on the YouTube video), Kinzie and her mom can be seen at the lower left corner of the screen as Leno introduces the “Meal or No Meal” segment. She and two other contestants, one from California and one from Cleveland, Ohio, had to impress two of three judges with their unique or bizarre talent.

The first contestant chugged an entire bottle of mayonnaise in less than 15 seconds, and won dinner and four tickets to the LA Dodgers.

Kinzie was up second.What’s your talent? Leno asked.

“Do you know Snow White?” Kinzie said.

“Uh, well,” Leno replied, “I mean, I’ve met her…”

After the show screened the original 1937 Snow White cartoon character, singing down an echoing well, Kinzie sang, “I’m wishing—I’m wishing—for the one I love, to find me—to find me—today, today. La-la-la-la. La-la-la-la….” She kept singing as the audience applauded and Leno tried to cut her off.

Two of the three judges proclaimed her singing impression of Snow White worthy of a meal, and Kinzie got a gift certificate good for her and seven friends to enjoy a meal at Benihana’s. Fortunately, there is a Benihana restaurant in Salt Lake.

Hamilton discovered her talent of singing like Snow White at summer camp during her freshman year of high school. She says she was shocked that the Leno producers had picked her.

“When I showed people my talent before I left Utah for the show, they would say, ‘No offense, but that’s it? That’s what your talent is?’” she said. “I thought it was really lame and couldn”t see why they’d want it on the show.”

All three of Tuesday night’s “Meal” contestants won restaurant tickets—both the mayo guy and the Ohio man, who threw playing cards 40 feet to pop a balloon held by one of the celebrity judges.

A broadcaster herself, Kinzie thoroughly enjoyed the experience and loved meeting Leno. “The show is fascinating, all the things that go on backstage is nothing short of awesome,” she said Friday. “It’s such a well-oiled machine. Everyone is efficient and knows their jobs.”

The “Tonight Show” covered all traveling expenses for Kinzie and her mother, and paid her $300 for performing.

“It was such a fluke, but one that I’m grateful for,” she said. “I’ve got a fun story to tell the grandkids now.”

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