When you tune in to my show at 7 pm, you usually hear a voice announce, “Ralphie’s here!” That voice is none other than Today Show co-host Hoda Kotb. It was recorded last June when I interviewed her during a Garden of Dreams charity event. Fast forward nine months, and I ran in to Hoda again at the same event. Watch the original clip first, then below it Hoda’s reaction when I tell her that she kicks off my show every evening.
The Garden Of Dreams Foundation, Madison Square Garden’s charity that aims to improve the lives of kids facing an array of obstacles across the tri-state area, is preparing for its annual talent show. It is an event that provides children with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform on stage at Radio City Music Hall.
And for that reason, TV personality Hoda Kotb is returning a second time to help out.
“This is one of those events that you have to do again. You can’t do it once,” Kotb responded when I asked why she reprised her role of “Celebrity Mentor” alongside the likes of gold medalist Nastia Liukin, model Damaris Lewis, The Rockettes, Broadway star Christina Sajous and hip-hop legend Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. “There are so many events and wonderful charities in New York. This particular one does it exactly right.”
Citing what the participants take from the experience, The Today Show co-host elaborated.
“It transforms lives. It changes the trajectory of someone’s path,” she explained. “You actually can physically watch someone change, and how often does that happen in your lifetime, that you get to watch someone transform right in front of you?”
According to the foundation, over 100 children will participate in the talent show, and each child took a different path to the great stage. For Caroline Waters, she battled Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. The 16 year-old Queens native was diagnosed at age two and began chemotherapy before later receiving a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister, who was just four at the time.
Waters has been cancer-free for 13 years, and chose to perform Andra Day’s “Rise Up” at the event.
“I find it very inspiring,” she said of the track. “It’s such an anthem; everything happens for a reason, so whatever happens, it’ll be OK.”
It’s quite a profound comment from a teenager like Waters who has faced so many trials and tribulations. Yet, her disposition reveals not only how this organization benefits children, but how it also reflects back on to the volunteers.
“I learned that these kids, when you look at the hardships that they have to sort of overcome, you learn that at the base of it we’re all just human beings,” Kotb responded when asked what she took from last year’s talent show. “We all just have basic needs. These kids have such incredible talent and I think sometimes they don’t get a fair shot at it because of where they began.
“I just like this because it puts everyone on the starting line together. Here we all are, together. Now 1, 2, 3: go. That’s how it works, and everyone gets their shot.”
In essence, the talent show gives everyone their own opportunity to rise up.
While this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, count Kevin Jonas as one of the many happy with the accomplishments of his younger brother Nick.
“Nick’s doing an amazing job. He’s working his ass off and having so much fun,” the oldest JoBro told me last week on the red carpet at the Garden of Dreams Talent Show inside Radio City Music Hall. “I think the music speaks for itself. Yunno, having two top 10 hits is huge, and it’s a feat all in its own.”
The youngest of the three musicians scored success on the pop chart with “Jealous” and “Chains.” Perhaps also not surprising: it doesn’t seem Nick is stopping there.
“I’ve heard there’s more music coming as well,” revealed Kevin. “So, I’m excited for him.”
Count Kevin strictly as a cheerleader though, and not as an older brother who tries to play mentor.
“Nick’s doing his thing. Each one of us is kind of doing our own thing,” he responded when I asked him about mentoring his younger bro. I posed the question because the event we were at centers on mentorship: the Garden of Dreams Foundation partners kids facing obstacles with celebrities throughout entertainment to receive guidance leading up to the event at Radio City.
Kevin did note that as the Jonas Brothers grew up, they had a few big names and experiences to lean on themselves.
“We got to meet a lot of amazing people as we got to travel and do different things,” Jonas noted, immediately mentioning the 51st GRAMMYs performance that the boys shared with Stevie Wonder. “Talking to Paul McCartney and being able to share our stories and him actually wanting to hear what we had to say and to tell us about his life… it’s just, things like that I’ll never forget.”
The Garden of Dreams Foundation held its annual Talent Show at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday. Children from across the tri-state area who are facing obstacles were chosen with the help of partner organizations to perform on the Great Stage at Radio City.
“People need to see the beauty in each person, no matter what situation they’re in,” Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, one of the celebrity mentors to the kids, told “Ralphie Tonight before the show. “That’s what we do here at the Garden of Dreams.”
In addition to the celebrity mentors from across the entertainment industry that helped the performers prepare, a number of other stars showed up on Thursday to lend their support – including “Sopranos” actor Steve Schirripa, Kevin Jonas and Chef Anne Burrell.
“If you have found your path, hopefully much earlier than I did, you know what? Stick to it, and love it,” Burrell said of the advice she usually gives kids. “And if you love it, you’ll be good at it.”
Other mentors for the show included model Damaris Lewis, The Rockettes and “Today” host Hoda Kotb. The event was hosted by MSG Networks’ Al Trautwig and Jill Martin.
There certainly was no shortage of star power, or inspiring stories. Braeden Hahn is a 14 year-old from Fredon, N.J. He was treated for severe aplastic anemia, but on Thursday when I asked him how he was feeling, that seemed to be the furthest thing from his mind. The singer and guitarist told me he was a little nervous, but excited to perform at Radio City – the largest stage he had yet to grace. Hahn chose to sing John Mayer’s “Gravity.”
“When I was in the hospital, I first heard the song and it just got to me because my sickness was trying to bring me down, just like the gravity, and I wouldn’t let it.”
Damaris Lewis is a celebrity mentor for Thursday’s Garden of Dreams Talent Show at Radio City Music Hall. The Brooklyn-born star brings a diverse resume to the table: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model, backup dancer for Prince and cameo in Kanye West’s music video for “Monster” are just a few of the things found on her Wikipedia (of course, we confirmed). Not surprisingly, Lewis was able to answer a question about what kids participating in the show could learn from the aforementioned musicians with relative ease.
“Listen,” she responded when asked what “The Purple One” could teach others. “I think that working with Prince, the one that I notice is that he hears everything. He’s very observant, and that’s important if you’re going to go in to a career in entertainment. You need to know what’s happening all around you, at all times.”
Perhaps his public persona would prevent others from linking Kanye West to a mentorship role at a kids’ talent show, but GRAMMY Awards and chart-topping albums don’t come without hard work and talent.
“Be yourself,” Lewis said of what Mr. West could teach those performing at Radio City Thursday. “Never be afraid, just like Hoda (Kotb), to be the same person you are when you wake up when you’re on that stage. If you carry that energy that you have on the stage in to your real life, your confidence levels will be the same in both areas.”
The “Today” host, along with stars from Broadway and The Rockettes, also serve as mentors to those participating Thursday.
“I love Garden of Dreams because they bring you people who are the same on the camera and off the camera,” Lewis noted of her colleagues. “I think it’s really important for the kids to see that as well because they’re going to meet Hoda, and then they’re going to watch her and say, ‘Wow! That’s the same woman I met!’
“It’s really great energy for the kids to have, on-and-off the clock.”
The Garden of Dreams Talent Show will feature children found through its 25 partner organizations that are facing difficulties, such as extreme poverty or homelessness. The event takes place on Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, and is free to the public. It kicks off at 7 p.m.
She is no stranger to entertaining millions, whether it is on “TODAY” with Kathie Lee Gifford and a glass of wine or while jamming out to “Uptown Funk” on “Lip Sync Battle.” But on June 18 Hoda Kotb will focus on a small, figuratively and literally, portion of her audience. The TV host is one of a handful of celebrity mentors for the annual Garden of Dreams Talent Show at Radio City Music Hall.
“When I was younger, you come and you walk by Radio City and you look up and you go, ‘Oh my God, it’s Radio City,” recalled Kotb to “Ralphie Tonight” before a rehearsal for the performance. “And then you see The Rockettes, and you see the rest of it… I just think that there’s something about this place.
“But more than that, a lot of great things happen in great buildings and great stages. These kids, who have overcome all kinds of tough things in their life, are standing proud, singing out and it just turns me on.”
The Garden of Dreams Foundation works with The Madison Square Garden Company to bring once-in-a-life time opportunities like the talent show to children facing obstacles. Joining Kotb to mentor the kids will be model and dancer Damaris Lewis, New York Liberty Forward Essence Carson, The Rockettes, Broadway performer Chrisitna Sajous and Jarod Grimes, who stars in the “New York Spring Specatcular.” The group brings a diversified skill set to the table; however Kotb believes that despite this being a talent show, it is not their talent per se that will takes these participants to the stage at Radio City and beyond.
“I don’t think the successful people are necessarily the most talented or the most educated, or any of those things because I wasn’t either,” the TV personality opined. “I think it’s really the kids who don’t stop. If you have a will and you love it, I think that’s three-fourths of it. Talent doesn’t win. Persistence wins. Perseverance wins.”
“Ralphie Tonight” covered the Red Carpet at the Garden Of Laughs Comedy Benefit for the Garden Of Dreams Foundation. The event, held in The Theater at MSG, raised nearly 1.4 million dollars for the foundation.
The Garden of Dreams Foundation is a non-profit organization that works with The Madison Square Garden Company to bring the magic of MSG – including MSG Entertainment, the Knicks, Rangers, Liberty and MSG Networks – to children facing obstacles. Since its inception in 2006, Garden of Dreams has created enduring programs and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that have brought joy and happiness to more than 250,000 children and their families.