Iowa State Fair





Bill Riley Talent Search

Bill Riley Talent Search

2021 Information

2021 List of Shows

Bill Riley Announces Retirement after 2021 Season


After 25 years on stage, Bill Riley will be retiring after the 2021 season of the Bill Riley Talent Search. “It has been a true honor to work with so many wonderfully talented young Iowans. I will always sit in amazement at the ability they have to "take the stage" and perform in front of an audience, kicking that stage fright to the curb and letting it rip!” says Riley. “I want to acknowledge and thank the parents, instructors and educators that assist these young Iowans to achieve their goals as well as the coordinators across the state that volunteer their time and make the qualifying shows possible each season. Also, the Bill Riley Talent Search would not be what it is today without our presenting sponsor, Hy-Vee. I thank them for believing in the program and supporting us for the last decade. All of these people are the foundation of the show and the reason for the program’s longevity. I look forward to working closely with the Iowa State Fair and am very excited to see what the future holds!”

“We can’t thank Bill Riley, Jr. enough for carrying on the legacy that his father started,” said Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair Manager and CEO. “Generations of talented youth from across Iowa have been proudly showcased at the Iowa State Fair on the namesake, Anne and Bill Riley stage. In 2021, we will celebrate Bill Riley, Jr.’s last tour and then plan for the future of the talent competitions in 2022. We want to be able to preserve the same level of excellence in competition and will share all the details at or after the 2021 Iowa State Fair.”

Riley took over the reins of the Bill Riley Talent Search from his father, Bill Riley, Sr. in 1997 but his involvement in the show started much earlier. “At 14 and 15 years old with my driving permit in hand, I started driving my Dad to talent shows throughout central Iowa.” Riley, Jr. has been proud to continue his father’s work.

Bill Riley Talent Search Performers

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’ 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. 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 and passed away in December of that same year.

Today the Talent Search is still thriving through his son, Bill Riley Junior. Nearly 100 local qualifying shows are held across the state with 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 at the Iowa State Fair. The Sprouts do not compete beyond the semi-finals, but are chosen as champions to be showcased in the Championship Show.

Bill Riley Talent Shows

Find out how YOU can participate in the Bill Riley Talent Search at the Iowa State Fair!

Talent Shows