Valerie Niessner wasn’t expecting to be tossed into an entertainment whirlwind this past September, but after sending the producers of the Live! with Regis show an audition tape – and ending up in the top 10 winners’ circle – she’s sharpened the focus on her life’s ambition.
A self-proclaimed “big fan” of the program, Neissner, a Washington Township resident, is no stranger to the limelight. With interests ranging from opera to rock music to poetry, she always managed to find some outlet for her passion to perform.”
I have always had a strong interest in the entertainment industry.” she said in a phone interview Monday. “Growing up, I appeared in quite a few school plays, and I sang with local bands over the years. I love being the life of the party, and every day I still try to make people laugh.”
Neissner, whose inspirations include comics Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence and singers Barbra Streisand and Dianna Ross, has made a point of incorporating her unique mixture of comedy and musical talent into her everyday life. So, when she heard one morning last month that Regis Philbin was seeking a new “regular person” as co-host for a day following the recent departure of long-time co-host Kathie Lee Gifford, it was only natural that she would consider entering the competition.
As the mother of 3-year-old Natalie and 1-year-old Jeffrey Allen, and with a schedule that can often be very hectic, she acknowledged that she was somewhat reluctant at first about developing an audition tape. But encouraged by her best friend Selena Layfield, who she said has “been pushing me to use my talents my entire life.” along with her husband, Jeff, she decided to go for it.
“Making the tape was the easy part.” Niessner said. “I sang a song that I wrote for Regis, and included a fun sketch at the end of it – two characters that Selena and I had created in the past, and continue to do at parties, Nora Norton and Ethel Ether.” She also enclosed a somewhat humorous letter stating why she would be the perfect co-host for the show. In the letter, she mentioned that although she’s always wanted to be an entertainer, she put her aspiring career on the back burner when she married six years ago and decided to start a family. But she explained that all of her dreams did, in fact, come true: “…I really knew what life was all about after the birth of my first child. It is not about having your name up in the lights!”
She added that “it would be an honor to meet everyone and have a chance to do something that I would love to do.”Immersed in her daily routine, Neissner had nearly forgotten about the tape until her telephone rang a few days later. It was a producer from the Live! show, requesting photographs of her – both recent shots and ones from her childhood. She happily obliged and her next step included answering 10 written questions.”Everything happened so fast. The following Monday, they aired part of my videotape and my song. I was shocked when a producer called me the next day and told me that I was one of the top 10 finalists – out of 15,000 tapes that the show received. Needless to say, my heart was beating so fast, I thought it would explode.”The Live! show aired the top 10 videos again on Wednesday and invited viewers to vote via Internet on their favorites. The top five winners would each have the opportunity to co-host for a day during the week of October 1.
“I was praying that I would win.” she said. “Then I received the call from the producer telling me that I received over 28,000 votes – enough to reach sixth place.” Despite the deflating news, Neissner remained optimistic.”I definitely shed a tear, because I was so excited and I knew I would do a fabulous job as a co-host. But I’m realistic enough to know that reaching the number-six slot – out of 15,000 contestants – is truly an accomplishment and a great experience that I will remember forever. My husband put his arm around me and said that he was very proud of me.”
Mariann Sabol, segment producer for the Live! show was especially enthralled with Neissner’s spirit. She came so close. I know that she would have brought a great energy to the show.” she explained. Valerie was fun to talk with on the phone and I know she would have brought a ‘real person’ quality to the show.”
Neissner is especially grateful for the chance to be a finalist at all. “I really want to especially thank my friends and family and all the people who supported me in the New Jersey and Philadelphia areas. There were so many people who voted for me who I didn’t even know. I’m very appreciative of their support.”
A firm believer in following her dreams, Niessner refuses to let her momentum slow down. While her family still comes first, the whole experience has given her a renewed confidence in her talents and career potential as a performer. In fact, during her week of excitement, she also received a call from Philly After Midnight and made a guest appearance. Guess what? She apparently made quite an impression and she is already scheduled to return to the show as a panelist in the near future.
She’s also determined to jump-start her singing career, and is thinking about voice-over work as well. “Ideally, I’d love to sing as a character in a Disney animated movie.” she said. And she’d welcome any opportunities to perform in the area. “It would be a great honor for me to sing the national anthem at a Phillies game – or any other Philadelphia sporting event.” she said.