Anniel Rodriguez started playing guitar when he was 13 years old.
The 24-year-old already knew how to play piano at the time, but his guitar quickly became special to him.
“I could compose music. I could play out what I was feeling without having to sing,” Rodriguez said. “It was a spiritual thing to me.”
After nearly a decade of practice, Rodriguez won KISS 105.3’s Sunday night talent show, landing him and nine other finalists front-of-the-line passes to audition for “America’s Got Talent” in Tampa — an opportunity that could slingshot his music career.
Dozens of ambitious performers joined Rodriguez at the Hilton UF Conference Center from 5 to 8 p.m., in hopes of winning the audition-line passes and $105.30.
Musicians, poets and comedians performed 90-second acts in front of KISS radio judges and a room full of contestants, friends and family members.
Musical performances included covers for songs like “All About that Bass” by contestant Madeline Smith and “Too Close” by contestant Megan Knutson. Stanton Johnson, 19, played his original song “For the Night,” and Kidcross played his own song, “Ready or Not.”
The Tampa auditions for the national competition will take place Nov. 2.
KISS 105.3’s morning show host, Brett Douglas, introduced each of the acts and said he had “huge respect for them for just showing up.”
Of the 10 finalists, all were musicians except for Preston Higgs — a dancer. Throughout the last few years, Higgs said he taught himself everything he knows.
“I saw people on the Internet, and I was like, ‘I can do that!’” he said.
Three years after he started dancing, he’s now on his way to Tampa.
[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 10/20/2014]