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Benton Follies: 'Real Housewives' leave their mark on Benton, southern Illinois

  • Reality show stars Luann de Lesseps, left, and Sonja Morgan, right, break bottles over the head of Grammy- and Emmy-winning singer Paula Abdul, much to the delight of the sold-out crowd at the first ever 'Benton Follies' at the Benton Civic Center.

    Reality show stars Luann de Lesseps, left, and Sonja Morgan, right, break bottles over the head of Grammy- and Emmy-winning singer Paula Abdul, much to the delight of the sold-out crowd at the first ever 'Benton Follies' at the Benton Civic Center.
    Ceasar Maragni Photos

  • Among the 19 acts appearing at the recent 'Benton Follies' was violist Amelia Messersmith, accompanied on piano by Emily Milligan. Nearly all the acts were from Franklin County.

    Among the 19 acts appearing at the recent 'Benton Follies' was violist Amelia Messersmith, accompanied on piano by Emily Milligan. Nearly all the acts were from Franklin County.
    Ceasar Maragni Photos

  • After spending the past six weeks in Benton filming a new reality TV show, Sonja Morgan center, and Luann de Lesseps, right, were given a royal sendoff by the city of Benton Thursday afternoon with one last trip around the Public Square. Riding atop the firetruck alongside the celebrities was Kale Patel, owner of the Benton Motel, where the ladies stayed during their visit.

    After spending the past six weeks in Benton filming a new reality TV show, Sonja Morgan center, and Luann de Lesseps, right, were given a royal sendoff by the city of Benton Thursday afternoon with one last trip around the Public Square. Riding atop the firetruck alongside the celebrities was Kale Patel, owner of the Benton Motel, where the ladies stayed during their visit.
    Ceasar Maragni Photo

  • New playground equipment at this city park at 304 N. Grand St. on Benton's east side is already getting use. The equipment was donated as part of the filming of a reality TV show produced by Benton native Russell Jay Staglik.

    New playground equipment at this city park at 304 N. Grand St. on Benton's east side is already getting use. The equipment was donated as part of the filming of a reality TV show produced by Benton native Russell Jay Staglik.
    Ceasar Maragni Photo

 
By Ceasar Maragni
Contributing writer
updated: 8/25/2022 1:22 PM

When folks in and around Benton found out there would be a talent show at the Benton Civic Center featuring nearly two dozen area singers, dancers and musicians, along with veteran television reality show stars of "The Real Housewives of New York City" Luann de Lesseps and Sonja Morgan, the tickets to the variety show began to sell at a steady pace.

But then when it was publicly announced less than 48 hours before curtain time that the previously hinted-to surprise guest would be Paula Abdul, the remaining tickets were sold within hours.

For the 500 audience members the event was a two-hour display of local talent and worldwide celebrities that was met with raucous applause and cheers throughout the evening. Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz has said he hopes the Follies can become an annual event in town.

The whole thing was part of filming for a to-be-named reality show that is the brainchild of Benton native Russell Jay Staglik.

Staglik is the producer of the somewhat hush-hush project, which has seen celebrities de Lesseps and Morgan and a 40-person production team in Benton for six weeks of filming and being involved in benevolent civic projects that will have lasting positive impact for the city and surrounding area for years to come.

Among them:
• The proceeds from ticket sales at "Benton Follies" will benefit the local food bank. 
• They have provided new playground equipment for a new city park at 304 N. Grand St.
• The two women have provided new dog exercise runs for all of the dogs waiting to be rescued at the Franklin County Animal Shelter.
• Jay Staglik personally will be paying for all dog adoption rescue fees for the next year.
• They hired nationally known muralist Ania Amador to paint three large murals in Benton.

Jay StagIik summed up it quite simply: "I adore my hometown. I can't wait for this show to air and showcase the charm of Benton!"