Will the Real Joe Flanigan Please Stand Up?

Last week we met Joe Turino, a contestant vying for the final spot of the second annual Joe Flanigan look-alike contest. His mission was simple: to be crowned the best Joe Flanigan look-alike in Hialeah and represent his favorite restaurant at the finals in Weston.

Along with his two brothers, Mike and Chris Turino, Joe spent the last two weeks building impressive props to wow the audience -- a giant Flanigan's cup, a beer mug helmet with Joe Flanigan's face on the front shield, a chest plate made of aluminum foil and adorned with a Flanigan's "F" in the center. He was confident no other contestant had spent as much time and energy as he did, and was probably right.

If the competition was based on originality, passion and dedication, Turino would've walked away victorious. But the contest was about look-alikes.

"They're not looking for someone dressed like Joe, they're looking for someone that looks like Joe," said Andy Billa, Hialeah Flanigan's manager. "They definitely want someone that resembles the icon."

There's no doubt Turino shares a slight resemblance with the iconic image, and maybe if it was a Joe Flanigan in his twenties look-alike contest, Turino would've joined the 21 other finalists the next day in Weston.

The Finals
The Weston Flanigan's, with its lakeside patio, provides the perfect setting for an event of this magnitude. A temporary stage was added for the competition, as well as industrial cooling fans to make it even more enjoyable.

It doesn't hurt that the Flanigan family knows how to throw a party either. Plastic beads, t-shirts and Bahamian junkanoo music make people happy, as do hot girls and cold beer, courtesy of Presidente.

Shortly after 4 p.m., Flanigan's President and CEO, Jimmy Flanigan, put on a pair of wacky sunglasses, started blowing his whistle and began parading around the restaurant with Sunshine Junkanoo, a group of eight musicians that over the last several weeks have followed him to each of the company's 22 restaurants in an effort to find the 22 best Joe Flanigan look-alikes.

The finalist danced their way through the crowd and made their way "backstage," which was behind a couple of bushes. One by one, Augie Bucci, Flanigan's chief operating officer and contest emcee, brought contestants on stage and asked them a Flanigan's-related question, while Joe Flanigan's children, Patty, Jimmy, Mike and Patrick, judged the contest.

Of the 22 contestants, 20 really looked liked Joe, and coincidentally like Ernest Hemingway too. The other two probably beat out a bearded lady to earn their spot in the contest and were happy to win a gift-card consolation prize.

Most of the men were dressed in Hawaiian shirts or Columbia fishing gear. One man carried a dead fish on a spear and two live lobsters. At one point he forgot about the ceiling fan above the stage as he pumped up the crowd, but luckily avoided a slimy mess after his cheering sections yelled, "watch out for the fish and fan."

The top four finalists received prizes--trips to Mexico, a weekend in the Bahamas, the type of stuff Joe Flanigan would've enjoyed.

After a short deliberation and Jeopardy theme music interlude, the judges agreed on a winner. "It just so happens that the winner this year looked so much like my father," said Mike Flanigan, "that it's just the feeling we all had when we saw (Nelson). It just brought back some memories."

Frank Nelson, a first-year competitor that beat out average Joes from the Coconut Grove restaurant, walked away with the $5,000 grand prize. When asked about how it felt to be crowned the new Joe Flanigan, he replied "great," and chuckled. Congratulations, sir.

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