Champion Sprout

Fort Dodge’s Hannah Lukehart may be only 11, but she took a top spot in the Bill Riley Talent Show at the Iowa State Fair

-Submitted photo
Hannah Lukehart performs for the crowd at the Iowa State Fair at the Bill Riley Talent Search. Lukehart was named one of the champions in the sprout division.

The song Hannah Lukehart chose for her award-winning performance at the Iowa State Fair this year was appropriate because no one knows how far she’ll go.

With the wind in her sails — and a lot of support and work — Lukehart was named one of the champions in the Sprout Division of the Bill Riley Talent Search in Des Moines.

“She’s been doing this for three years. This has been her goal,” said Lukehart’s mom, Tina Sells. “The day she won, when they announced her name she cried. Then we all cried.”

The 11-year-old Fort Dodge girl is in fifth grade at St. Edmond Catholic School. She’s been singing with her teacher, Mary Ann McSweeny Buhr, since she was 4.

“She was my mom’s singing teacher,” Lukehart said.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Between piano lessons, learning ukulele, and this karaoke machine in her bedroom, Hannah Lukehart rarely stops making music. Lukehart won the champion label at the Bill Riley Talent Search this year, two years of making it to the semifinals.

Lukehart performed alongside 2- to 12-year-olds from across the state in the Sprout Division. After the preliminary rounds at the state fair, there are three days of semifinals, Sells said. Two champions are picked each day. In the Sprout Division they aren’t narrowed down any further than that.

“This year they ended up with eight grand champions instead of six because they felt they had such great talent,” Sells said.

Lukehart’s song choice — “How Far I’ll Go” — from Disney’s “Moana” wasn’t too hard to learn because she already knew the words.

But a lot of time goes into practicing.

“You practice a couple times a week. And you did some county fairs before you did the state fair,” Sells said.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Hannah Lukehart, 11, proudly displays her Sprout Champion ribbon from the 2018 Bill Riley Talent Search at the Iowa State Fair, along with her two blue semi-finalist ribbons and three participation ribbons.

Videos of Lukehart’s performances are available on YouTube, courtesy of the Riley Talent Search. She can be found singing “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” in 2016 and “Part of your World” from Disney’s “Little Mermaid” in 2017.

“Each year she’s gone to the fair, she has gone to the semifinal round,” Sells said. “If you make it to the semifinals, you are automatically qualified for next year’s state fair. So she was already knowing she was going to perform at the fair this year. But to get used to stage presence and stuff, her vocal coach has her do some county fairs.”

At those county fairs, if she won the talent show, the second place winner would go to state fair, since Lukehart already had her state fair slot, her mother said.

And she did win, at both the Humboldt and Hamilton county fairs. She also sang at the fair in Webster County.

The day of the big performance — at the Iowa State Fair — is a long one.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Hannah Lukehart was inspired by her mom, Tina Sells, to continue singing on the Bill Riley stage. She studies with the same music teacher her mom had when she was young, MaryAnn McSweeny Buhr.

“It starts at about 6 in the morning,” said Sells. “She gets her hair done, and then she has to be at her singing school to warm up with her teacher and do a practice run through. Then they head to the fair. We all get there about 9:30 in the morning.

“We register, and then she warms up again at the fair. Then it starts at noon. It’s a pretty long day. I’m usually the most nervous of everybody.”

Lukehart admits to some jitters. “It’s a little nerve-wracking before, because you kind of forget how big the stage is. You just come back, and it brings back memories. It’s really exciting too.”

Still, she is 11.

“I also look forward to afterwards, because we go on rides.”

Lukehart made friends with two dancers in blue who were there performing with her, she said. She also got to meet a young ventriloquist.

She’s inspired to sing, at least in part, by her mom.

“I took voice lessons from her singing teacher as well, when I was younger, and I also performed at the Bill Riley Talent Show, when I was 15, I think,” said Sells. “I did not make it past the first round. Hannah has surpassed my achievement.”

And who knows? Lukehart may be appearing on TV before too much longer.

“She’s been asking me about ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I told her to conquer a Bill Riley first and then we’ll talk about it,” Sells said. “So now I have to back up my promise.”

Lukehart said that would be a big step.

“I want to,” she said, “but I don’t know if I’m ready yet.”

She does plan on competing again in the older division of the Riley shows.

“I hope. The older division is supposed to be pretty picky,” she said. “I’m excited for the senior division, but I want to at least make it to the first round. … But second round would be great.”