By Mike Walter
Atlantic City, N.J. – This is a story about overcoming obstacles. To use a baseball analogy, it’s about fouling off a few curve balls until you get the pitch you want… then swinging hard and hitting it deep.
At this year’s “DJ of the Year” competition, held this past Aug. 13, the final night of DJ Expo in Atlantic City, N.J., change was in the air. DJ Expo’s long-running event that bestows awards to the best of the best from America’s mobile-DJ talent would offer more than a couple curves. For one, The Casbah, where the competition had been held the past few years, had closed, so a new location was chosen. That location was The Black Box Cabaret, a club inside a club (the larger entity being the gentlemen’s club, Scores Atlantic City.)
And while the Black Box Cabaret came complete with a killer sound system, amazing lighting and a video wall that made The Casbah’s dark and grainy screens seem like watching an old black-and-white TV, it lacked one essential element: a proper stage. Oh sure, it has a stage, but it’s a strip club. The stage is a small semi-circle with a pole in the middle (a pole that security told us no one was allowed to use.)
To top that off, the morning of the show, when the 12 finalists for the competition met to randomly select the order of the show, Vinny Liotta (owner of Events by Cool Cat in Clifton Park, N.Y.), happened to grab the number 12. As the producer and host of the show, I always tell the competitors that the order of the show doesn’t matter. Indeed, in my 13 years of hosting, winners have come from the first and last slot (as well as almost every slot in the middle). “Just put on a great performance,” I tell them, “and the judges will score appropriately.”
Yet even with that said, no one wants to be first and no one wants to be last. I can see it in their faces when they reach their hands in and take a number. Some light up when they see the number 8, while others frown when they get the number 1.
Liotta certainly wasn’t thrilled to see his number 12. But he didn’t let it rock his world either. In fact, he made one small change to his routine—he added a snippet of the Black Eyed Peas’ song “The Time” to give his routine a true closing feel.
It was enough to grab the title. Just barely. First time finalist Eric Whiteman of 2nd II None Productions in Monroeville, Pa., had already performed and put up an impressive number (695 out of a possible 800). Whiteman was the leader in the clubhouse when Liotta took the stage, but Vinny’s performance was scored a point and a half higher by the eight judges. Liotta’s 696.5 was enough to give him the victory and the esteemed title of DJ Expo’s “DJ of the Year” for 2014. And as Chauvet had generously donated a Scorpion Script laser, Liotta also took home a cool prize.
Other Categories: Vinny Liotta and Eric Whiteman also tied for Best Dance, while Elisa Burg won the Best Game category. Betsy Fisher took Best Choreography. The competition was both fun and educational for all attendees—and gladly, no one touched the stripper pole.
Mike Walter runs Elite Entertainment in Tinton Falls, N.J., and serves as the annual host of DJ Expo’s “DJ of the Year” competition.