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Astorian enjoys chance at cabaret talent showdown

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Athens-born and Astoria-raised singer George Costacos seems to have been in just about everything except "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." In 2004 he was part of the opening ceremonies for the Athens Olympics. He's been featured in PBS' "The Greek Americans" and starred in his own musical play, "Greek Gifts." He's performed all over the world.

"The list is very long," he said in a voice that still has a hint of a Greek accent.

Now, he's added the first annual MetroStar Talent Challenge, which he says is "American Idol for Broadway and cabaret people," to his extensive resume.

No, he didn't advance to the second round, but the experience was still worthwhile. "It was a thrilling night," he said via e-mail after the event. "The audience was so very generous with their applause and compliments afterwards."

Costacos thought he impressed the judges, but the votes of both judges and audience are counted equally. While Costacos had guests in the audience pulling for him, he didn't quite have enough to go on to the next level. " I'm not complaining!" he wrote.

Aside from being a "joyous experience," the challenge "was also a learning experience ... as I've never participated in an event before where audience votes factored into the result. So now I know what American Idol contestants feel like!"

He was notified that he was going to be in the challenge by e-mail, which is unusual — usually they'd contact the performer's agent or publicist. "They ask you to submit your information," he said in an interview. "They want a bio and a CD of your work, so they can see that you can actually sing."

Costacos' accompanist during the show was Seth Weinstein, who has been performing with him since 1998.

The prize for the winner of the challenge, which continues through Aug. 18, includes pubicity, a CD and show produced and other perks — or, as Costacos put it, "World domination and fame and fortune!"

For the first stage of the challenge, contestants sang only one song. During the next stage they sing three songs, then six songs. For the final the contestant chooses two songs and the committee chooses another.

There was also a surprise celebrity judge — cabaret legent Julie Wilson. Before the performance, Costacos said he wasn't unnerved by the prospect of performing in front of Broadway royalty. "I get stage fright," he admits, "but when I'm out there I'm safe. Before I get on, I'm a mess, but when I step on stage I'm in my element."

Afterwards, he said, "It was a great honor for me to have the legendary Julie Wilson there, who showered me with her love and compliments. A compliment from a legend counts a lot! I feel very blessed!"

Costacos didn't always want to be a performer. He went to Hunter and Queens colleges to study physical education and physical therapy but was ultimately done in by Hunter's art elective requirement.

"I took Greek drama, 'cause I knew I was going to pass with an A. But I didn't know that it would awake in me my love for theater." Then he took another class, Introduction to Acting. The students had to see a play and a musical and write reports on them. Costacos saw "Sunday In the Park With George."

"It was too late," he says. "I was bit by the bug."

Then one day he accompanied a friend to a dance audition because she was nervous. "And out of nowhere comes this beautiful woman named Susan Matthews and she looks at me and goes, 'You! Dance!" When Costacos demurred, she physically took him by the arm and dragged him into the rehearsal hall.

"Now, you dance," she said.

He did, and was cast in a play. And he kept getting cast in plays and musicals.

When the writer comments on the sheer Greekness of this, Costacos laughs, "Exactly!"

Costacos said he loves performing in Europe, especially Paris, but he really loves New York. "There's an energy here you don't find anywhere else. And this is the melting pot of all cultures." He still lives in Astoria, which remains "very much a neighborhood," its little mom-and-pop stores yet to be vanquished by Starbucks.

He and Weinstein, his accompanist, are working on a Broadway tour they've been planning. They hope to begin the tour some time in late fall. "It will include old and new songs, known and unknown," Costacos writes. "Very unique material."

For more on George Costacos, visit his website at www.georgecostacos.com.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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