History

In 1946, Iowa Falls native Bill Riley emceed variety shows held at the Iowa State Fair by KRNT radio. In 1957, Bill approached Fair secretary Lloyd Cunningham about showcasing talented kids during the State Fair. Two years worth of convincing later, Bill Riley's first Iowa State Fair Talent Search was held. By August of 1959, Bill had crisscrossed the state holding numerous talent shows. During the Fair, the state's brightest young stars performed for delighted Fairgoers.

"Our daily shows started at 2 o'clock. They were so popular that people weren't attending the afternoon shows in the Grandstand, so the Fair Board asked us to move our start time to 1 o'clock. Then, people went on the Grandstand, but they got there late. So finally, we started our shows at Noon."

Bill Riley Sr.

Affectionately known as "Mr. State Fair," Bill retired from the Talent Search in 1996. That same year, the Plaza Stage was renamed the Bill Riley Stage. For the next seven years, Bill’s son Bill, Jr. and Terry Rich co-hosted the Talent Search at the Iowa State Fair. Since then  Bill Riley Jr. has been the host of the show.

Today the Talent Search is still thriving. Nearly 100 local qualifying shows are held at fairs and festivals statewide. The winners from these qualifying shows advance to compete at the Iowa State Fair. During the Iowa State Fair, there are seven days of preliminary competition for Sprouts (ages 2-12) and Seniors (ages 13-21), followed by three days of semi-finals and, ultimately, the selection of six Sprout champions and one Senior champion the final day of the State Fair.