Bill Riley Talent Search
The Bill Riley Talent Search annually showcases the diverse abilities of Iowa's young people. Qualifying shows are held across the state throughout the year and winners advance to the State Fair competition.
History of the Bill Riley Talent Search
In 1946, Iowa Falls native Bill Riley emceed variety shows held at the Iowa State Fair by KRNT radio. In 1957, Bill approached Fair secretary Lloyd Cunningham about showcasing talented kids during the State Fair. Two years worth of convincing later, Bill Riley's first Iowa State Fair Talent Search was held. By August of 1959, Bill had crisscrossed the state holding numerous talent shows. During the Fair, the state's brightest young stars performed for delighted Fairgoers.
"Our daily shows started at 2 o'clock," Bill recalled. "They were so popular that people weren't attending the afternoon shows in the Grandstand, so the Fair Board asked us to move our start time to 1 o'clock. Then, people went on the Grandstand, but they got there late. So finally, we started our shows at Noon."
Affectionately known as "Mr. State Fair," Bill retired from the Talent Search in 1996. That same year, the Plaza Stage was renamed the Bill Riley Stage. In 2006, Bill celebrated his 60th Fair. He passed away in December 2006.
Today the Talent Search is still thriving. Nearly 100 local qualifying shows are held across the state. There are seven days of preliminary competition for Sprouts (ages 2-12) and Seniors (ages 13-21), followed by the semi-finals and, ultimately, the selection of six Sprout champions and one Senior champion. The Sprouts do not compete beyond the semi-finals, but are chosen as champions to be showcased in the Championship Show. Bill Riley’s son, Bill Riley, Jr., continues to host the show.