89-year-old Palm Bay burlesque legend stunned ‘America’s Got Talent’ judges, even Simon Cowell

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Penny Starr Sr. is determined to prove that age is not a barrier.

The 89-year-old burlesque dancer from Palm Bay can be seen on the stage of “America’s Got Talent” on TuesdayAug 2. She will be featured in the final audition show to air at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

FLORIDA TODAY spoke to Starr, who was celebrating her birthday on Sunday, about chasing her dream. Starr, whose real name is Janet Gaynor, dances under her stage name.

ASK: Tell me about your audition for “America’s Got Talent.”

ANSWERS: It was amazing! I had so much fun. Everyone was so nice. I wasn’t allowed to say “burlesque” at all. I was just a ‘dancer’. A burlesque dancer does not dance to a ‘Grand Old Flag’. Right? That’s the number they chose for me. I said, “Well, I can’t do my regular number, but I can march.”

Q. How were the judges? (Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Sofia Vergaraand Heidi Klum and host Terry Crews)

A. They were great! I have heard from many people that they will not be nice. But everyone was so nice. Even Simon. Because I was ready for him. If he had blown the buzzer while I was working, I would have turned around and said, “Respect your elders.” But no, he was nice.

When I started my song, the music started playing and I started doing my march. And it was fine until I took off my boa and my gloves. You should have seen them all, their eyes and their mouths got bigger and bigger. When I dropped my dress, Simon turned to the audience and said, “What the hell is she doing?” As far as I understand, they’ve never had a burlesque girl there.

Penny Starr Sr., an 89-year-old burlesque dancer from Palm Bay, FL, will be featured in "America's Got Talent"  on Tuesday, August 2.  The show airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

Penny Starr Sr., an 89-year-old burlesque dancer from Palm Bay, FL, will appear on America’s Got Talent on Tuesday, August 2. The show airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

Q. How did you choose your stage name?

A. My real name is Janet Gaynor. My mother changed it. I said, “Mom, I need to have a show name.” She says, “Janet Gaynor did ‘Pennies from Heaven,’ so Penny.” She said, “‘A Star is Born’, there, ‘Penny Starr’, there’s your name.”

Q. How did you get started as a dancer?

A. I started in 1957. I ran away with a circus. They wanted me to fly, but I was not good on the (trapeze) line. I was more in the net than in the air. So they took me out of the air act and gave me Lucy the baby elephant. I worked a dance routine with her. I was with her for over a year. And then they got me into the carnival. The fairground owner’s wife taught me to be a burlesque dancer.

When we wintered in Tampa, all the girls went to Guys and Dolls and of course I went with them. That’s how I started in the company. Then the owner of that club, after working there for about a year, said, “You know, Janet, you’re good. You’re a great dancer.” He says, “Find an agent and get to work.”

Q. Have you met many celebrities by dancing?

A. At one point I was working at The Flamingo, and I had breakfast with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra. The Rat Pack. Yes, they knew me very well. They were all nice guys.

Penny Starr Sr., an 89-year-old burlesque dancer from Palm Bay, FL, will be featured in "America's Got Talent"  on Tuesday, August 2.  The show airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

Penny Starr Sr., an 89-year-old burlesque dancer from Palm Bay, FL, will appear on America’s Got Talent on Tuesday, August 2. The show airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

Q. Tell me a story about your dance career.

A. In 1962 I was in Atlantic City where I played. There was a pageant called Miss Bumps and Grinds of ’62. I won!

I don’t think about retiring. As long as they want me and can pay for me, I will work. So now I’m a legend, and I’m in the Hall of Fame in Vegas.

Q. What do you like about dancing?

A. I like the stage. You have to love the stage and the stage will love you too. And so will the people. If you don’t like the stage, don’t bother.

Q. Have you put a signature?

A. I was known for ‘Harlem Nocturne’. That was one of my signature numbers. It’s not fast, it’s more on the slower side, you know, bluesy, with lots of hand and arm movements.

Q. Do you have a viewing party on Tuesday to watch “America’s Got Talent”Aug 2?

A. My dog ​​and I, we’re going to look at it. I did it, but I didn’t see it, so I want to see it. I want to see the audience. There are a lot of things that I might be able to include in another song.

Penny Starr Sr., an 89-year-old burlesque dancer from Palm Bay, FL, will be featured in "America's Got Talent"  on Tuesday, August 2.  The show airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

Penny Starr Sr., an 89-year-old burlesque dancer from Palm Bay, FL, will appear on America’s Got Talent on Tuesday, August 2. The show airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

Christina LaFortune is the Entertainment and TgIF Editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/christinalafortuneon Twitter at @lafortunecor send her an email [email protected].

Whether you’re interested in music, theater, festivals or other local entertainment, FLORIDA TODAY has you covered. Support local journalism by subscribing to Special Offers – USAToday Network.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: America’s Got Talent: Meet 89-year-old burlesque dancer Penny Starr Sr.

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