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Valley vocalist is national champion

| Saturday, Nov. 30, 2002

The winner and first national champion: Jayson Bridges of New Kensington.

Even as he prepared to ride in a float and sing in this morning's "Celebrate the Season" parade in Pittsburgh (televised live on WPXI, Channel 11, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.), the country vocalist was still coming to terms with finding himself announced on Wednesday as the grand champion of the month-long talent search on the nationally syndicated "The Caroline Rhea Show."

"I'm excited, big time," says the 19-year-old Springdale native, whose real name is Jason Chiusano. "I just want to say thank you to everyone who helped me out and voted over the Internet and phone lines," he says. Viewers decided the winner with their phone and on-line "ballots." There were no in-studio judges.

A total of 14 members of his family attended Wednesday's show in New York City. A bonus for them and Bridges is that Neil Diamond was Rhea's guest for the hour.

"I took pictures with him. he said, 'You won man. Prepare to work hard and now let God do the rest,' " Bridges says.

He received a fully-loaded 2002 Dodge Durango SLT, estimated to be a $38,000 value, and an opening slot on comedian Rhea's stand-up performance bill when she plays Pittsburgh on a date still to be determined.

Perhaps more importantly for Bridges, he says, is the national exposure he has been receiving as he tries to build a career in music. He sang four times on the show and had several nonlocal appearances as he advanced in the competition.

His father, a former musician who operates Party Time Karaoke, is elated.

"This is more than exciting. I just feel the ride has started. It's taken off more than we could have believed. Having Neil Diamond on was incredible," says Jay Chiusano, an Oakmont native and Plum High School graduate who now resides in Penn Hills. "I think he will be one of the Top 10 singers in the country. I think this means there will be a record deal for him and that he will be a household name."

Seeing her son receive the honor was "just unbelievable" says Bridge's mother, Sue Underwood. She says his talent was evident from the time when he was just a child. Adding to the excitement is that she also is a Neil Diamond fan and got to meet him. "He seemed wonderful," she says.

Bridges is not sure what the impact of his success might be.

"I just want to keep going with it. I hope a record label will pick me up pretty soon. I'm a big time lucky guy," he says.

Valley fans also will be able to see him this weekend at his regular Sunday night gig (9 to 11) at the Lamp Post in Lower Burrell, where his is a KJ (karaoke jock) for his dad's company.

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