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Astorian has eyes on the prize in Broadway singers’ challenge

Athens-born and Astoria-raised singer George Costacos seems to have been in just about everything except "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." In 2004 he was part of the opening ceremonies for the Athens Olympics. He's been featured in PBS' "The Greek Americans" and starred in his own musical play, "Greek Gifts." He's performed all over the world. "The list is very long," he says in a voice that still has a hint of a Greek accent. Now, he will be a contestant in the first annual MetroStar Talent Challenge, which he says is "American Idol for Broadway and cabaret people."

He was notified that he was going to be in the challenge by e-mail, which is unusual — usually they'd contact the performer's agent or publicist. "They ask you to submit your information. They want a bio and a CD of your work, so they can see that you can actually sing."

Costacos' accompanist during the shows will be Seth Weinstein, who's been performing with him since 1998. He won't say what song he'll be singing, but it's a well-known Broadway show tune. "I think this way I have the opportunity to be judged on my talent and not by the material," he explains. For this first stage of the challenge, the contestant only sings one song. During the next stage they sing three songs, then six songs. During the final the contestant chooses two songs and the committee chooses another.

There will also be a celebrity judge, who's a surprise. "I know Liza Minnelli's been a judge at many of these things," Costacos says. "I wouldn't be surprised if I see Liza there. She's very accessible and very encouraging of other people." He also wouldn't be surprised to see cabaret legend Juliet Wilson. When asked if the presence of Liza or Juliet Wilson would make him especially nervous, Costacos says no.

"I get stage fright," he admits, "but when I'm out there I'm safe. Before I get on, I'm a mess, but when I step on stage I'm in my element."

He loves performing in Europe, especially Paris, but he really loves New York. "There's an energy here you don't find anywhere else. And this is the melting pot of all cultures." He still lives in Astoria, which remains "very much a neighborhood," its little mom-and-pop stores yet to be vanquished by Starbucks.

Costacos didn't always want to be a performer. He went to college to study physical education and physical therapy. Then one day he accompanied a friend to a dance audition because she was nervous. "And out of nowhere comes this beautiful woman named Susan Matthews and she looks at me and goes, 'You! Dance!'" When Costacos demurred she physically took him by the arm and dragged him into the rehearsal hall.

"Now, you dance," she said.

He did, and was cast in a play. And he kept getting cast in plays and musicals. Still, Costacos was so wary of show business that he tried to get away from it. Before he was at Queens College he was studying at Hunter College. "You have to take one art elective," he recalls. "So I took Greek drama, 'cause I knew I was going to pass with an A. But I didn't know that it would awake in me my love for theater." Then he took another class, Introduction to Acting. The students had to see a play and a musical and write reports on them. Costacos saw "Sunday In the Park With George."

"It was too late," he says. "I was bit by the bug."

Overwhelmed, he transferred from Hunter to Queens, determined to get his degree in phys ed. But it was while he was at Queens College that he had the run-in with Susan Matthews.

When the writer comments on the sheer Greekness of this, Costacos laughs, "Exactly!"

By the way, what exactly does the winner of the MetroStar Talent Challenge win?

"World domination and fame and fortune!" Costacos laughs. Actually, the winner gets publicity, a show and CD produced and other perks.

George Costacos will be appearing at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues on Monday, July 21, at 7 p.m. For more on Costacos, visit www.georgecostacos.com.

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