In his book “The Outliers” Malcom Gladwell repeatedly refers to the “10,000-hour rule,” asserting that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is a matter of practicing for at least 10,000 hours. Lehi’s own Desiree McKinnon has put in hundreds of hours of learning, developing her skills and technique, and honing her ventriloquism talent.
McKinnon has worked to perfect her ventriloquism talent for the Miss Utah’s Teen competition to be held Feb. 15-17 at the Covey Center in Provo. The Miss Utah’s Teen competition, sister to the Miss America program, will welcome 29 gifted contestants from around the state to compete in four categories: private interview, fitness, talent, onstage question and evening wear. McKinnon will be competing as Miss Lehi City’s Teen. McKinnon was awarded first runner up last June in the Miss Lehi’s Teen competition. Amanda Giraldi was crowned as Miss Lehi’s Teen, but due to new age eligibility rules, it was determined she is too old to compete at the state level as a teen. McKinnon, as the first runner up, will represent Lehi at the state competition, while Giraldi has been offered the opportunity to compete at the Miss Utah competition.
McKinnon is passionate about her puppetry and was introduced to ventriloquism years ago while watching ventriloquist Darci Lynne Farmer compete on “America’s Got Talent.”
“When I saw Darci win ‘America’s Got Talent,’ I was inspired and thought what she was doing with her puppet was so cool. My mother had recently bought me a puppet, so I decided to try it out,” said McKinnon.
McKinnon began developing her talent by standing in front of a mirror and practicing the ventriloquism alphabet with her puppet every day. She spent hours practicing daily and currently has a coach who lives in Texas. Mckinnon’s coach, Geoff, gives her feedback from videos she makes with her puppet.
McKinnon has been a ventriloquist for four years and enjoys sharing her talent with the Lehi community.
“I use ventriloquism to teach children in elementary schools in Lehi about the importance of service, kindness and resilience. My community service initiative is ‘Project Lift,’ and I offer four skills that help develop the ability to lift others through service. The four skills are leadership, involvement in the community, friendship and teamwork,” said McKinnon.
McKinnon feels that the art of ventriloquism is important because of its ancient origin and entertainment value in society.
“Ventriloquism truly changes lives. I have seen it throughout the last four years. There are so many children that have reached out to me and told me that they have started learning the art because they’ve enjoyed performances of ventriloquism. There is so much to be learned through this incredible art and it can be magical for an audience. It makes me so happy to see that all these people are interested in puppets because I feel it is a dying art,” said McKinnon.
McKinnon draws inspiration from Miss America 1965, Vonda Van Dyke, who was a ventriloquist. Earlier this year, McKinnon had the opportunity to attend the Miss America competition in Orlando, FL. Van Dyke was also in attendance, and McKinnon spotted her in the theater lobby and quickly approached her for a picture.
“I walked up to her and asked if I could take a picture with her because I look up to her so much. I told her I was a ventriloquist, and she lit up and said, ‘Good for you, keep doing it,’” said McKinnon. “It was so cool to meet my role model and get a picture with her.”
McKinnon is excited for the Miss Utah’s Teen competition as she has spent long hours preparing for all categories of the competition. However, she is most excited for the talent portion because she loves performing with her puppets and has prepared something special for the competition.
“Ventriloquism is a difficult act to prepare. You have to do awkward things like talk to your puppets by yourself, make your puppets converse with each other, and figure out their voices and personalities,” said McKinnon. “I am so excited to perform my talent as I’m trying something new and using two puppets. I’ve never done that before and I’ve had to work really hard to differentiate three distinct voices. I will be singing with my puppets, Dolly and Jordan and it will be so fun.”
McKinnon will be performing her talent at the Miss Utah’s Teen competition on Saturday, Feb. 17 during the preliminary competition in the afternoon.
“I have had a lot of help from my ventriloquist coach. He has taught me a lot of difficult techniques to help me prepare,” said McKinnon.
“We do not realize the impact we can have on others through sharing our talents. I have been inspired through the talents of others. I have coached three people that have been inspired by ventriloquism and I hope to be the kind of person who can inspire others,” McKinnon added.
McKinnon has volunteered to assist with music therapy at the Primary Children’s Hospital in Lehi. There she will be a featured performer with her puppets as she aspires to spread love and hope to all the patients and their families.