Yo, this guy shows he can yo-yo at GCU's Got Talent

Josh Salazar makes his yo-yo dance during the Canyon Activities Board’s GCU’s Got Talent on Tuesday night.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Josh Salazar had the shy demeanor of a big young man with a gentle voice who might freeze up when the talent show’s bright lights shined on him.

But then Salazar whipped out his yo-yo. Flinging it, dancing it, reeling it, rocking it — around the world and behind his head and back again.

The crowd of nearly 4,000 at Grand Canyon University Arena jumped to its feet — and ultimately voted him the winner for the first GCU’s Got Talent contest on Tuesday night.

“I’ve never competed in front of a crowd that big. That was electric,” he said backstage afterward, holding the trophy for the Canyon Activities Board (CAB) event that featured 10 talented acts. “To feel that energy and the extra confidence you get from an audience was amazing.”

Students cheer on the performances.

The junior Christian studies major from Gallup, New Mexico, started to yo-yo in the 5th grade after winning one at a school program.

“I have been practicing ever since,” he said. “It’s a lot of practice, a lot of hand-eye coordination, a lot of trial and error. But I love yo-yoing. It’s a lot of fun to come with new tricks and routines on stage and really express myself that way.”

He’s no rookie. He now has 141 yo-yos. He’s a three-time winner of New Mexico competitions and competed in the National Yo-Yo Contest in Phoenix last summer, though “a yo-yo caught in my hair” and ended his set.

But nothing compared to the energy of this crowd.

“I was really cool, since I come from a small town and not a lot of people know who I am. I’m really introverted at times and can be really shy and awkward, and to be able to go out on stage and be excited with the crowd is just really exciting.”

Show host and GCU student Kevin Beaudin said singers and dancers are numerous at GCU events but the uniqueness of his act really connected with students – and his under-the-radar personality.

“He is so pure,” he said. “From the beginning I was like rooting for that guy.”

Chloe Furnstahl performs a dance with grace and flexibility.

To the fast-paced house music of “In My Mind” and samba of “Anarchy Rainbow,” he even went off into an “offshoot style,” which is yo-yoing without the yo-yo even attached to the string. He flips and spins the disc and rides it along the dancing string from his other hand, like a magic show.

He practiced that part extra hard on his daily sessions in his room on campus or in the courtyard. Hour after hour, the roommate knows to walk clear.

“It’s an amazing way to clear my mind. It’s very therapeutic after a long, tough day to get lost having fun with it,” he said.

Austin Powell, CAB special events coordinator, and his crew really encouraged Salazar to embrace his off-the-string maneuvers.

“He killed it. I can’t believe out of all the different events that thousands of college students go crazy over a yo-yo,” he said. “(GCU’s Got Talent) was everything we wanted, to bring in some people with some different talents and see how people react. I think it worked out great.”

Simon Isaac, known as Rapper Savage Simon, performs an original song and dance.

The event replaced the popular Mr. GCU contest that often featured young men with video montages and light-hearted fun, singing and dancing to popular songs.

The variety was on display right away with singer-songwriter Blake Beitler building a rhythmic, churchy crescendo of his original ballad, “One Dance,” lighting up cell phone lights.

After Salazar brought down the house and Sam Jackowitz sang his best Ed Sheeran impressions, complete with a red wig and Weird Al-like lyrical twists to incorporate the GCU experience, Showstopper dance competitor Chloe Furnstahl performed a stunning jazz acrobatic routine.

Cowboy-hat-clad Hayden Conway followed that with his original “Heartbreak Highway” song of deep, growling vocals that had the comfort of a pickup truck driving slow on a gravel road at night.

Three judges well-known to students provided the kudos — and no buzzers — to the talented group that stepped out beyond the typical big shows such as Lip Sync that are heavy on video and dance. Liv Chavez (GCU Cheer and Lip Sync choreographer), Christian Juhl (Lip Sync winner, 2021) and Marshanna Maxwell (Canyon Worship leader) praised all but the spoof talent of host Beaudin, who came out as a mime to boos and buzzers, because America loves to jab at mimes.

Avery Burch performs "Rise Up," an ode to her late grandfather.

The second half of the show featured even more variety, with a heart-pounding step routine from a group of four women who said they wanted to showcase their Black cultural heritage of rhythm and faith with a set called “Steppin In His Name.” Stomping feet and clapping and a bit of Double Dutch jump-roping delighted the crowd.

Simon Isaac performed a flipping, twisting, dancing routine to his original rap, and the RadioBoyz duo provided a unique song story of time travel, wearing space suits in front of star-studded video, as if they were flying through the universe.

Powell said the audition judges loved them right away, when without the dazzling video behind them, they showed up with friends who brought lights of different colors to accentuate the vibe of two bright, creative guys cooking up some oddities.

Confetti rains down on Josh Salazar (left) and host Kevin Beaudin after Salazar won the talent contest.

But when the audience voted, the top three included the powerful vocals of Avery Burch, singing “Rise Up,” the song she sang to her grandfather before he died. And it included the group Bieber Fever that was an ode to GCU’s big Lip Sync shows that get the crowd roaring with both cheers and laughter, its video montage of Bieber’s songs and photos matching their outfits showing each phase of the pop star’s life.

But this was a show unlike the others, its set framed with tasteful, colorful lights, video montages of their backstory and an atmosphere less frenzy and more admiration for the talent, like the show it models, “America’s Got Talent.”

And when the final three came down to one winner, the crowd went crazy for Salazar and his dancing yo-yo.

 Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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Related content:

GCU News: Lip Sync flies at high speed to delight crowd

GCU News: Slideshow/video: The final Mr. GCU

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