By definition, a "talent show" should be--above all else--entertaining. Even so, the Mercury's first annual talent show, Pizzazz, exceeded all expectations. Competing for a top prize of $500 and the chance to go on to Seattle for the Northwest Pizzazz finals at Bumbershoot, 14 contestants engaged in a fierce contest of show biz ability at the Aladdin Theater last Saturday night. From the ukulele player to the 15-year-old standup comedian, to the lip-synching drag kings, to the banjo-playing clown who lay in a pile of broken glass, every act was something truly special. In front of a riotous crowd of hundreds, each talented participant handled their time in the spotlight with unfailing ease and grace.

It was thus all the more impressive that within this cloud of unrelenting skill and courage, one act still managed to rise above the rest with a virtuoso performance that brought the crowd to its feet and had 'em buzzing for the rest of the night. When beatbox/rapper duo Fogatron and Manic D sauntered onto the stage, a hush fell over the crowd. Fogatron brought the microphone close to his mouth, hesitated for one magical dramatic second, and released a jaw-droppingly perfect stream of robotic voice effects and drum beats, complete with bass kicks and cymbal taps. A collective gasp rang out in the seats. It wasn't just the accuracy of each individual part--the perfect vocal mimicry of each piece of a full drum set--but the layering; the bass kicks pounding BEHIND a snare lick, which rat-a-tat-tatted BEHIND cymbal crashes and robot effects. "Yo, yo," chimed in Manic D, launching alongside Fogatron into a flawless stream of rhythmic, lyrical rapping.

30 seconds had passed since they'd begun and the talent show was barely even halfway over, but every single audience member was on the same wavelength. Our silly heads weren't bobbing in unity to Fogatron's unrelenting beats--they were nodding a unanimous answer to one simple question.

Are Manic D and Fogatron going to win Pizzazz?

Bob/nod go the heads.

Yes. They most certainly are.

Yet for all their masterful talent and onstage charisma, Fogatron and Manic D are, up close and personal, endearingly down to earth. Sitting down with the hiphop duo the day after their glorious victory, I asked them who their favorite act was at Pizzazz besides their own.

"I was upstairs for most of the show, terrified," said Manic D, a skinny guy with an easy, sheepish smile. "I thought there'd be like 20 people in the audience, but the whole place was basically packed. It was probably one of the bigger crowds I've performed for."

Seemingly unfazed by the pressure, the red-bearded Fogatron watched the whole show from the sidelines. "I was most impressed by the savant," he told me, in a reference to contestant Amy Awesome, an otherwise normal seeming girl with the strange ability to instantly rearrange any word she hears into its component letters, in the order they appear in the alphabet (example: STOP = OPST). "I mean I don't support the CIA, but she could get a job at the CIA."

Both men have been performing around town for relatively short periods of time; Fogatron beatboxing for the past three years, and Manic D rapping in front of audiences for barely a year. But they are clearly naturals, and together have a chemistry that trumps any lack of raw experience. Already in demand, the two almost missed Pizzazz entirely to play other shows.

"We were both going to be up in Seattle," said Manic D. "Fog was going to be at Hempfest--"

"I was going to be performing with Quivah," chimed in Fog, who also performs regularly with his own jazz/funk/reggae/ hiphop outfit, Luminous Fog.

"--And I was going to be doing a show with some friends up in Seattle," continued Manic D. "But we went to the [Pizzazz] audition anyway just for fun, and that went well, so we just decided to call off what we were going to do and do Pizzazz."

"We were just going to do the audition for the fuck of it," said Fogatron. "Just to get another chance to perform."

"Everybody knows if there's any chance to perform, usually both of us will be there," said Manic D. "That's how we have our fun."

Fun to the tune of $500 and a chance for more amazing prizes up at Bumbershoot, like free studio time and glossy headshots. Pretty amazing considering the duo didn't get a chance to practice their act even once the week prior to Pizzazz, thanks to Manic D's ill-timed bout of laryngitis.

Both performers always come prepared, however, with a stockpile of preconceived, long-rehearsed raps and beats they can pull out any time, in any place. Fog calls the beat he threw down at Pizzazz his, "Enter the Robot Control" beat, and Manic D, despite having participated in freestyling battles and the like, considers himself first and foremost a songwriter.

"There are kids coming up now who saw 8 Mile and that's what hiphop is to them--battling, and that's all it is," he said. "But I wanted to write songs. It was always more important to me to have actual meaningful lyrics and not just make fun of people."

"I like to battle," concluded Fogatron. "It's fun. I thought of last night as a battle. Not necessarily a hiphop battle, but we were definitely trying to win."

For these Pizzazz up and comers, the battle has just begun.

Check out the September 9th edition of the Mercury to see how Manic D and Fogatron fare in the Northwest Pizzazz Finals. Represent!