The Big Joe Henry Talent Show at Jenkinson’s on Point Pleasant Beach has no equal at the Jersey Shore. Frankly, I’m not sure it has an equal anywhere.
Who *is* Big Joe, you ask? None other than our favorite DJ who is huge in this part of New Jersey — actually, he’s huge everywhere, owing to his gargantuan size. But I’m not saying anything that Joe doesn’t say about himself in his customarily self-effacing manner. “The only DJ viewable from outer space”, he quips in the opening of his show on the radio, weekends on New Jersey’s only radio station, 101.5 FM.
As much as Big Joe dwarfs the contestants on stage with him, he is just a big pussycat, putting the talented amateurs at ease with banter about his weight and appetite. The talent show contestants are divided into three categories, ages 8-12, teenagers, and adults, with the Finals held on Labor Day weekend.
Every Sunday night during the summer, beginning at 7 PM, Big Joe invites talented amateurs to the stage. The show has become competitive enough that the contestants are all pre-arranged, and given exactly two and a half minutes to do their thing. Mostly budding singers, there are occasional instrumentalists and dancers, all with the guts to get up on stage live, in front of a group of strangers mostly in beach gear. This year Joe fielded 231 contestants principally from central New Jersey and its shore towns.
We originally stumbled on the talent show by accident, walking the boards about ten or eleven years ago and seeing a small crowd swell one Sunday evening. We stopped at Jenks and sat out on the balcony, impressed with the level of talent of some of the contestants. So we showed up again the next Sunday, and we were hooked. Our granddaughters have come to enjoy the show almost as much as we, and now cousins come to join us as well. But we no longer jockey for unobstructed viewing angles off the pavilion at Jenkinson’s. We show up early enough with our beach chairs to get a premium spot on the sand, with a good angle to the stage. But you be the judge. Here’s a sample of one of this summer’s shows:
Indeed, each Sunday night, you can be the judge, as it’s the audience that votes for the winner in each category. Like Jack Bailey hosting the hit 1950s TV show Queen for a Day, Big Joe holds his hand over each contestant and the audience cheers or applauds for their favorite. Often the cheers aren’t sufficient to clearly delineate the winner, and Joe is left with the tough task of picking one. The audience prods him on: “Take Them Both!, which he often does. That packs the field for the Semi-Finals. The finalists make it to the big show on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, and here there is a panel of judges who decide on the finalists in each of the three categories. The tallies are always very close, such is the level of talent once you reach the Finals, as was the case tonight.
Well done, Big Joe. And as you would say, we don’t mean your burgers. We’re referring to the smiles you brought to the faces of the fans of all ages who packed the sand on Point Pleasant Beach each Sunday night this summer, glimpsing local talent on whom you shine a spotlight. May you have the good health to do this next summer again, and beyond.