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With bells on: Colfax resident featured on The Ellen Show

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — You know that old saying, “I’ll be there with bells on?”

Colfax resident Kobi Shaw recently appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres television show — with bells on.

Bells on a jumpsuit, that is.

And played — what else? — “Carol of the Bells.”

“Carol of the Bells” was Kobi’s entry for the “Ellen, Here’s My Talent” competition.

She was among three finalists chosen from more than 1,600 entries and appeared on the show May 23. The segment had been taped the day before in Los Angeles.

The bells on the jumpsuit are known as “desk bells” — similar to the kind of bell you might find at a business to let a clerk know you are waiting for service.

“Steve found the desk bells. They are children’s desk bells. We had them around and had been playing with them. Our sons had played them for concerts at church and at school. Then we thought it would be fun to put them on a jumpsuit. When you lay them out, you have to remember what order to put them in. On the jumpsuit, they are always in the same order. It made them easier to play, and more fun and interesting,” Kobi said.

Steve is Steve Russell, Kobi Shaw’s husband, and the other half of the In Capable Hands juggling duo.

“It’s been pretty recently that I’ve been playing (the jumpsuit). Since Christmas, at some Christmas parties and things like that. The bells lend themselves to ‘Carol of the Bells.’ People would ask, ‘why don’t you play this tune or that tune?’ But that’s part of the joke, ‘Carol of the Bells’ on the bells,” Kobi said.

“It’s one of the harder things that you could possibly play on the desk bells,” Steve noted.

“Our son came up with the harmonies. It was a whole family effort,” Kobi said.

Kobi and Steve found out about the Ellen DeGeneres contest on Facebook through the Chippewa Valley Theater Guild.

“I do shows through (Chippewa Valley Theater Guild) and they had posted that Ellen was running the contest and was looking for clips. And I immediately thought, ‘The bells!’” Kobi said.

Short notice

Many people can probably relate to having “crazy busy” lives, and it is no different for Kobi, Steve and their two sons, ages 11 and 13.

In addition to entertaining at various venues, Kobi is employed at the Dunn County Environmental Services office.

Steve taped the entry video for the contest in their backyard in rural Colfax.

“I had about two hours between things, and I said to Steve, ‘would you tape this please? And send it off?’ And then two days later we got a call confirming contact information. That’s when we thought, ‘Oh. They’re interested.’ I can’t imagine that they were calling everybody,” Kobi said.

It wasn’t until she was in church, however, that Kobi discovered she had been on television.

“During the passing of the peace, someone said, ‘I saw you on TV last night.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, it must be that credit union commercial we did many years ago.’ And she said, ‘No, it was for The Ellen Show. I think it was you.’ And I said, ‘That’s me!’ And she said, ‘You were wearing bells.’ And I said, ‘That’s me! I don’t think there’s anybody else out there with a bell suit,’” Kobi said.

“What happened was, they had taken submissions for a month, and during the course of the month, every so often, she would air a few clips to show what was coming in. So because that person at church told us, we knew it had been on,” she said.

Practice makes perfect

It was at that point Kobi decided she had better practice so she could practically do “Carol of the Bells” in her sleep.

“Once she aired the clip, we knew I might end up going. This was the second annual (contest) … I went on overload with practicing because I had to know it cold. My family would come home and find me cooking dinner with the bell suit on. ‘I’ll boil this water and while I’m waiting …’ I’d be on the computer with the bell suit on,” Kobi said.

“We have pictures of that, too, Kobi checking e-mail with the bell suit on. … it was a new thing, and it was a challenge to make sure it all worked. When The Ellen Show calls, you have to be ready to go,” Steve said.

“We bought the jumpsuit at Fleet Farm. Then we played with placement. For a while, they were velcroed. We’d experiment. Let’s move that bell here or that bell there to make it flow, make it more interesting. Once we knew where the bells were going to live, then I had to sew them down. When we taped (the contest entry), they were still all pinned,” Kobi said.

“It took a lot of experimenting with the placement, moving them around. Does it logistically make sense, but does it look interesting as well. If my hands are not moving a whole lot, it’s not as interesting for the audience,” she noted.

Another challenge involved transporting the bell suit. Do you put it in a suitcase so that it flies with all the other luggage? Do you carry it? Do you put it in your carry-on case?

“I wondered if we were going to make it through airport security. I was not going to check the bells. It was very funny to see them go through the x-ray machine (at the airport). I was waiting for them to open it up,” Kobi said.

“That would have been a highlight. I wish they had checked on it,” Steve said.

“I did have all of my paperwork with me from The Ellen Show so I could show them I was going to perform,” Kobi said.

Friday phone call

The contest ended on a Thursday, and on Friday, a representative for the television show called.

“They were just checking for availability to see if I was interested and willing to go out there, and would I be able to play the piece live. I didn’t even check with work. I said ‘Yes!’ And they said, ‘We’re still not sure but we’ll be in touch,’” Kobi said.

“I spoke to multiple people that Friday from The Ellen Show. Then we had to wait until Monday afternoon. Then they called again. So I finally said, ‘Does this mean I’m going?’ And they said, ‘Well. Yes.’ On Wednesday we flew out to L.A. Steve came with me. I didn’t get my flight itinerary until Monday night. We flew out on Wednesday. We taped on Thursday. They took us right from the studio to the airport. We flew back. And we were home to watch it on TV on Friday. It was fast. It was a whirlwind. I was very grateful to have Steve with me to witness it and document it. I was very nervous. I hadn’t been doing (Carol of the Bells) very long,” she said.

Hush-hush

Not only was it a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles to tape the television segment, but Kobi and Steve also had to keep it a secret.

“I was not allowed to tell anybody. Nobody really knew. We told the boys. We had to find someone the kids could stay with, but we couldn’t tell them why. Just that the kids needed a place to stay while we were out of town for a few days. When we taped on Thursday, we asked, ‘Can we tell people now?’ And they were like, ‘No. You can tell people they might want to watch tomorrow, but you can’t tell them why.’ We had to wait until the day it aired to tell people it was going to be on,” Kobi said.

“Even on the way there, we technically didn’t know if I was a finalist. On a layover, I got a call from (one of The Ellen Show) staff members, and I asked, “Can I ask how many finalists there are?’ And she said, ‘How do you know you’re a finalist?’ I said, ‘Maybe I just assumed. You’re flying me out there, and you told me to bring the bell suit.’ I had to tell her, ‘I know I’m not privy to that information now, so I just assumed,’” Kobi said.

“When we finally got to the studio, they admitted you were a finalist. When we got to the dressing room, they said, ‘you are finalists,’” Steve said.

Same hotel

As it turned out, all three finalists were staying at the same hotel.

“In the morning, a van came to pick us up, and we’re standing outside of the hotel, looking around. We’d been watching the show and the clips. And we were like, ‘There’s the chicken lady!’ We saw this girl with the big cases. ‘That’s the hula hooper!’ And we thought, ‘Is that it? Just the three of us?’” Kobi said.

Of the other two contestants, one lady hummed “Flight of the Bumble Bee” as a chicken, and a 17-year-old girl twirled 73 hula hoops at one time.

The girl with the hula hoops won the grand prize vacation trip.

But Kobi and the chicken lady each came away from the contest with a 50-inch television.

“That was a surprise. Because all they said was that the first place winner would get the trip. The chicken lady and I won TVs. Ellen said, ‘No one goes home empty-handed. You’re all winners.’ For me, I wasn’t expecting that. We had a 1988 television that would shock you every time you turned it on manually. Maybe it was time to get a television that was actually from this millennium. It was quite a treat. Especially for our children. And now we have a reminder too,” Kobi said.

Celebrities

The Ellen DeGeneres Show was not, however, Kobi Shaw and Steve Russell’s national television debut.

No — their debut was playing the William Tell Overture with musical tubes called Boomwhackers on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno a few years back as part of the “Does This Impress Ed Asner” segment.

Ed Asner was, incidentally, “very impressed.”

Kobi and Steve also have appeared on “Live With Regis and Kelly.”

“We take the music seriously. The notes are correct,” Steve said.

“The pieces are thought out. We spend a lot of time on the staging and the building of the music,” Kobi said.

“The two routines have taken us to The Tonight Show, to Regis and Kelly, to New York to be on ‘Carolines on Broadway,’ and now this. And that’s been in the last eight years. So every two years, we go somewhere really exciting,” Steve said.

“I spent 30 years working on my juggling. And now I get on these shows with music. People ask if we’re going to juggle. No. No juggling. Just music. And I’m sure the musicians are wondering about that. Peter Schickele, the creator of PDQ Bach, said, ‘You’ve taken PDQ Bach even farther,’” Steve said.

“The routine would not have existed without Steve. He found the bells. He came up with a way to play them,” Kobi said.

“Basically, what it amounted to was I couldn’t do it. I tried,” Steve said.

“He was about to retire the routine, and I said, ‘What about me? Let me try it.’ Of course, we had to buy a new jumpsuit. His didn’t fit me,” Kobi said.

“Now there’s a challenge. What do we do with my old jumpsuit? What else can we strap to it?” Steve asked.

“For me, it wasn’t about winning. It was about being on the show, getting to meet Ellen, going out there to Los Angeles … that’s what I love about it as an example. You just never know. If I didn’t submit the piece. If I didn’t put it out there. The opportunity would have never been there. When opportunities come along, at least you can give it a shot,” Kobi said.

Because really. Who would ever think in a small town like Colfax we would have people who have performed as entertainers on national television?

And not just once.

Of course, if Kobi Shaw and Steve Russell ever have their own television show — we can always say, “We knew them when …”