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Before we were “Dancing With The Stars”

In 2008, David Archuleta become a finalist on *American Idol* during one of the shows most successful seasons. Throughout his run, Archuleta garnered front-page headlines in the state’s major daily newspapers and quickly became a household name.

While Archuleta eventually lost in the final, he became a certified star in his home state. He also joined a long line a creative performers who rose to stardom because of appearances on television shows, especially unscripted competitions such as *Star Search* (which Archuleta won at 10 years old), *Dancing With The Stars,* and, of course, *Idol.*

All of them, from the sibling dancers Derek and Julieanne Hough to the Osmond family, owe at least some credit for their success to a smiling trumpet player from New York who served as the godfather of amateur performers and popular music for more than six decades: Eugene Jelesnik.

He arrived in Utah in 1937 for a six-week stint at the Hotel Utah, but never left. The state fit him, largely because Utahns have always embraced music and art. And by staying, Jelesnik eventually became a beloved television host as well as a renowned conductor. He also oversaw the music for the Days of ’47 parade, one of the largest in the U.S., and did 19 USO tours for American troops.

Jelesnik had a quirky, even flamboyant, style. This is apparent when looking at his blue rhinestone jacket, which is part of a larger Jelesnik collection owned by the State of Utah.

The jacket was part of his wardrobe on the *Utah Talent Showcase,* which ran for nearly 60 years on local television. His show celebrated amateur performers, usually local, as well as musical stars (Liberace, anybody?), movie stars such as Bob Hope, and even politicians. Among his most notable discoveries were the Osmond Brothers, who made their first TV appearance on his show.

Along with his television show, Jelesnik conducted the Salt Lake Philharmonic in annual summer concerts at Liberty Park that would attract hundreds of people. He often recruited professional friends from New York to join the symphony, and only stopped serving as conductor at the age of 87.

As a state, Utah matured rapidly during the middle 20th century. Salt Lake became a commercial and travel hub, the northern mountains spawned world-renowned ski resorts, and the red rock canyons of southern Utah developed prominence through dozens of Hollywood movies and the major national parks.

Through it all, Jelesnik held forth as a preeminent champion for Utah’s arts, music, and culture. While he died in 1999, his character and impact remains within the purview of the state’s historic collections. To protect the story of Eugene, the state needs a proper center for not only storing, but sharing, the objects, photographs, videos, and music of Jelesnik.
category: Storytelling
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