PIEDMONT -- Students will squawk their way to fame once again at the nationally known 48th annual Piedmont High School Bird Calling Contest.
The top three finishers will take flight May 20 for New York City and appear on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on May 21. Letterman took over featuring the students after "Tonight Show" icon Johnny Carson retired in 1991. The students have had their 15 minutes of fame since 1976, when Carson got wind of the zany contest and invited them to appear.
"The (Letterman) show is extremely generous to the students, paying their airfare, hotel and meals during their stay," said Piedmont High history teacher Ken Brown, who helps the students coordinate their skits.
Student Daniella Mohazab, who participated last year but did not win, is taking another shot at fame this year. There will be two solo performers and five other teams of three students, Brown said. The red-throated loon, the laughing gull and the snowy egret are three of the featured birds this year. Students have been practicing since February, before and after school and at lunch, to refine their calls and develop their skits and costumes.
"About 40 kids came to the initial meeting early this year, but as the date approaches some decide not to do it when they realize the prep time that is needed," Brown said.
Nobody wants to lay an egg on stage, so Brown and Piedmont Middle School teacher Linda Jarvis coach the students along the way. This year, a very special guest will attend the contest, bringing a keepsake from the Carson years. Jeff Sotzing, president of the Carson Entertainment Group, contacted the school to say he will give them an old poster for posterity and may make available some video archives of the show featuring the bird callers.
"The contest is so popular we get calls and emails from around the world, some from places that want to start their own bird-calling contests," Brown said.
But Piedmont secured their bird-calling niche many years ago, when in 1963 teacher Leonard Waxdeck hatched the idea that's become a Piedmont tradition.
"It's a part of Piedmont history, that's why the interest continues," Brown said. "Some students participate because their mothers or sisters did before them."
This year, the time was changed to evening so more people could attend, Brown said.
What: 48th annual Piedmont High School Bird Calling Contest
When: 7 p.m. May 10
Where: Alan Harvey Theater, 800 Magnolia Ave., Piedmont
Cost: $10 adults, $8 students and seniors
Information: Piedmont High School at 510-594-2626