She has sung in and around Columbus for years.

But it took a friend signing up vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Marla Jo Mason for the latest edition of Columbus Got Talent for her to decide to give the contest a try for the first time.

“I know a ton of people who have been in it,” Mason said recently.

She is one of nearly 25 acts registered for the third annual event that carries a $1,000 prize for the winner. Auditions, free and open to the public, will be Aug. 12 at Southside Elementary School. The ticketed finals, featuring the top 12 acts selected by judges, will be Aug. 20 at the Columbus East High School auditorium.

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Last year, more than 300 people cheered on the finalists. The winning act gets to perform at Ethnic Expo, the city’s free, international festival conducted the second weekend in October every fall.

The event, launched and organized by the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization to celebrate diversity, has included past performers ranging from dancers from India to singers from Venezuela to bands comprised of members from several nations — all holding to a bond of sharing a part of entertaining culture with others.

In fact, therein lies much the aim of CAMEO, which also helps its members feel more at home in Bartholomew County.

That’s especially important since CAMEO itself grew out of a study from the Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

The local Welcoming Community survey showed that people moving to Columbus from other nations sometimes struggled to feel welcome in the Midwestern culture.

So the Heritage Fund helped launch Columbus Got Talent with a $10,000 grant used in 2015 and last year.

“Diversity is a fundamental part of the whole show,” said Rajesh Garg, one of the organizers. “It’s so people can enjoy all our similarities and differences at the same time.”

He and other planners are working to market and promote the finals better in order to boost the crowd. About 500 people saw the first finals in 2015.

“We are very hopeful,” Garg said.

Organizers said auditions will feature a variety of age categories. The finals will spotlight all the acts in one category.

“This year’s acts are even more diverse (than before),” show founder Rajib Panda said.

The first two years, the majority of the entrants came from the local residents hailing from India. This year, former India residents have landed in the extreme minority, Panda said.

One aim in two shows

What: Columbus Got Talent contest and diversity entertainment show featuring dancers, singers, musicians and other acts.

When: Auditions free to the public Aug. 12 at Southside Elementary School, 1320 County Road 200S in Columbus. Ticketed finals scheduled Aug. 20 at Columbus East High School, 230 S. Marr Road.

Information: Columbus Got Talent Facebook page and webpage at

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.