Metro Weekly

Meet the voices behind APO’s NextGen Vocal Competition

The finalists in The American Pops Orchestra's competition have plenty to say about music, song, and life during quarantine

Luke Frazier was frustrated.

“I would hear college kids audition,” says the Founder and Music Director of the American Pops Orchestra, “and I would say, ‘You know what? You’d sound really great singing this Paul Simon song,’ or ‘You’d sound really great covering this Joni Mitchell song.’ And they had no idea who I was talking about. All I would hear was music written in the last ten years.

“There are many, many college kids who don’t know who Aretha Franklin is, who can not name a single Dolly Parton song other than ‘9 to 5,’ who don’t know anything of Barbra Streisand other than ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade.’ And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, a lot of the guys know Frank Sinatra, but they don’t know Nat King Cole or Dean Martin. A lot of them don’t even know James Taylor! Which is a total crime.”

So the maestro, in his unflappable, inimitable way, did something to remedy the situation: he created NextGen: Finding the Voices of Tomorrow. Designed for university undergraduates majoring in music and voice, the competition in its first two years unearthed a treasure trove of wondrous vocal talents.

“I wanted to start a competition that would give these kids the chance to learn different music,” says Frazier. “I also wanted to teach them how to sing with an orchestra, because that’s unheard of. In the classical world, musicians get a chance to sing or play with an orchestra all the time. It’s very, very common. But in popular music, it’s extremely rare. They come out of college and they really don’t know how to interact with an orchestra. They don’t know how prepared they need to be. It’s learning great repertoire, and it’s learning how to perform with an orchestra. That’s why I did it.”

Everything was on track for a huge third year, with more schools than ever participating, among them American University, The Catholic University of America, Frostburg State University, George Mason University, Howard University, James Madison University, Liberty University, Marshall University, University of Mary Washington, Ohio University, Shepherd University, Temple University, West Virginia University, and the College of William and Mary.

And then, COVID-19.

The maestro, again in his unflappable, inimitable way, decided a virus — let alone a pandemic with social distancing quarantines in effect — wasn’t going to put NextGen on pause. So he pressed play. He shrewdly rejiggered the live, single-evening concert into a three-day, virtual affair, boasting 30 semi-finalists on Friday, April 24, all vying for a coveted top ten spot in Saturday’s finals.

“In the semifinals, you get to hear all the students sing 32 bars,” says Frazier. “The only rule is they have to sing music written before 1970. But it can be anything they choose. Each of the kids have made a video of themselves singing. The judges and the audience will vote. We’ll tabulate them that night, and the top 10 from that will be featured the next night. The finalists will get to sing a longer piece — a minute and a half version of another song written before 1970. Then we’ll vote again. On Sunday night, I’ll announce the winners live.”

Under normal circumstances, a jazz quartet composed of APO musicians would accompany the students, but in this case, Frazier tapped Alex Tang, the pianist for the orchestra, to provide accompaniment.

“We wanted to give them a great quality accompaniment to use rather than have to go online and find something that may or may not work,” says Frazier. “Every single student gets their accompaniments for both songs right at the beginning, and they go ahead and record both songs. All we have to do the next day is pull the videos of the finalists once we tabulate the scores.”

Two winners will be crowned — one male, one female — with each receiving a cash prize of $500 and the opportunity to appear in a future APO concert (two second-place winners will receive $250 apiece). “With a lot of competitions, you win cash and go on your merry way,” says Frazier. “But with us, you win a cash prize, and then you get asked to sing with the orchestra.”

Everything about the NextGen competition is free. There are no entry fees for the university or the contestants. Frazier is perplexed that more universities don’t take advantage of the offer to participate. “We’ve been surprised at some of the colleges, even right in our neck of the woods, who have not responded to our outreach. I know academic schedules are busy and everything, but I would say candidly that I’ve been surprised because there’s absolutely no cost. I thought, ‘It’s a disservice to the students as much as anything,’ but c’est la vie.”

This year’s NextGen is free to watch, but pre-registration is required. (Click here to register now.) A donation of $25 for adults and $15 for students is suggested, but it’s not mandatory. Still, all funds raise help to support the APO, acclaimed for its own artistic community outreach. “We have a box where you can put in any amount,” says Frazier, who declines to take a salary for his work running the orchestra. “You can give us a dollar if you want — and every dollar that goes in is going right back out to our artists.”

Each audience member gets a vote alongside four guest judges: Broadway star Mauricio Martínez (On Your Feet!); Jeffrey Finn, Vice President of Theater Producing and Programming at the Kennedy Center; Nova Payton, one of D.C.’s most cherished theatrical singers; and Charles McKay, Managing Director of the storied New York Festival of Song.

For this feature, Metro Weekly queried the contestants, who range in age from 18 to 24. All responded with intelligent, impassioned replies about what music means to them and its greater purpose in our society. These are young people for whom singing is nothing less than a calling. Meanwhile, all have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in ways that are clearly dispiriting, but also reveal the sheer resilience and hopefulness of youth.

“The kitchen counter has become a ballet barre and the shower has become a recital hall,” says Kodiak Thompson, a 20-year-old music theater major at Temple University. “Everyone is afraid, but our household of ‘Temple Musical Theater Majors’ is making the most of it and doing our part to promote health and safety for ourselves — and for others.”

Many of the students watched helplessly as graduation ceremonies vanished, summer plans dissipated, and social interactions were reduced to online Zoom sessions. Some are separated by circumstance from loved ones. Yet nearly all put a positive spin on the country’s current quarantined circumstances by trumpeting hope for a better, more empathetic future. It’s a reminder that even in the toughest times, voices carry, and the gift of song — primal, healing, transporting — is a remedy unlike any other.

Jessica Barclough

Jessica Barclough

21, Straight
Junior, George Mason University
Major: Theater
Listening to: Jack Garratt, The 1975, Lizzo

It is impossible to meet somebody that does not like music. While we all have different tastes in styles, the art of the song brings people together. People from all different walks of life can come together and bond over a band, artist, or genre of music. It gives us power in our day to day lives. Being able to tell a story is my favorite part about being an artist. Singing brings light into the world as well as my life.”

RaShonda Bentley

RaShonda Bentley

22, Straight
Senior, Liberty University
Major: Commercial Music
Listening to: The Clark Sisters, Whitney Houston, Tamela Mann

“My ultimate goal is to be an International Gospel recording artist who also is a featured vocalist on Broadway competitions and maybe some Broadway shows. I just want to impact the Kingdom of God and impact the world with not just my singing voice, but with the words I have to say verbally, and through my actions.”

“This coronavirus has impacted my life tremendously in more good ways than bad. I was supposed to be graduating May 9th from Liberty and doing an internship at a church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Even though everything was cancelled, I changed my perspective and remembered some words from Dr. Vernon Whaley, ‘The longer the line of preparation, the greater the opportunity.’ I believe there is a greater opportunity waiting for me with my name on it. So, this setback is just a setup for my comeback.”

Olivia Bloch

Olivia Bloch

18, Ally
Freshman, American University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: David Bowie, Shaina Taub, Joni Mitchell

“I have been singing for as long as I can remember! Both of my parents worked in the music industry before I was born — my dad as a musician in various grunge bands and my mom as a publicist. For me, singing is a way to express emotions that simply speaking words cannot do justice to. It is a way to tell stories, and transport you to a realm beyond the everyday. It brings both joy and a sense of groundedness into my life. The power of song can be healing. In hard times, listening to music can make one feel less alone. It can also be celebratory, entertaining, and spread joy. Music forms a soundtrack to our lives. The world would be much less colorful without it.”

Sydney Borchers

Sydney Borchers

19, Straight
Sophomore, Liberty University
Major: BFA Musical Theater
Listening to: Harry Styles, Johnnyswim, The Band Camino

“I can honestly say that I am my most confident self when I am singing my heart out. Music has continued to show me the beauty and order of God’s creation. Music is so powerful because it has the ability to bring people from all different kinds of backgrounds, races, religious affiliations and more together, for it is something that we all can enjoy and find solace in.”

Camille Capers

Camille Capers

21, Straight
Senior, Howard University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Lizzo

“I first got interested in singing by watching the musicals I loved growing up. As a kid, I was really into all the Disney movies, and then when I got older I was really into shows like Glee. I then got really into Broadway musicals, which sparked my love for singing even more. Music has the power to make people stop and have an escape from whatever they are going through in life. It has the power to transport people to another time and place and allow them to have an experience. My goal, as a singer and as an artist in general, would be to impact people in this way.”

“The coronavirus has caused a lot of big changes in my life. I have had to switch to online school and video auditions, and I have had to go home to quarantine with my family. It is a time of a lot of change and uncertainty, but I am trying not to lose hope or live in fear. Every day brings something new.”

Jessica Elkins

Jessica Elkins

22, Lesbian
Senior, University of Mary Washington
Major: Theater
Listening to: Maggie Rogers, Rex Orange County, Orville Peck

Singing is one of the ultimate forms of expression. It brings the ability to emote the way words cannot. Music tells a story, and having the instrument be your own body is a uniquely special feeling. I think the power of song brings forth an outlet for people to feel. At concerts, people gather together. Theaters, music halls, wherever it may be there is a sense of community unlike any other. Song lets you know you aren’t alone.”

Emily Flack

Emily Flack

23, Ally
Senior, William & Mary
Major: Theater and Music
Listening to: Lizzo, Taylor Swift, Joni Mitchell

“My mother is a violinist, so I’ve always been surrounded by music in my house and in my life. Singing brings joy and light into my life. What I’ve been taught, and what I believe fully, is that singing begins where regular speech can no longer convey the emotions you’re feeling in that moment. There’s something so beautiful about being able to use your voice to release something you’ve been holding onto, express happiness and sadness, or even just bring a little bit of peace into someone else’s world for a few moments. It has also given me the courage to use my voice. I am an introvert living in a very extroverted entertainment world. Whenever I feel nervous or out of place, I can always return to my singing and let singing speak for me.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a serious curveball my way. I am a senior, and was planning on living out the rest of my senior spring at college before graduating and going to the beach with friends. I like to try and find any sort of silver lining I can. I get to spend every day with my family and my four dogs, I can finish reading the books in my room that have been half-finished for years, and I can find the beauty in the situations I took for granted before, like getting to pass a friend on the way to class or going to study in the library together. Once this pandemic ends, I feel that everyone will have a stronger appreciation for the small and beautiful things in life.”

Shannon Tierny Flack

Shannon Tierney Flack

20, Ally
Sophomore, James Madison University
Major: Studio Art-Photography BFA
Listening to: Heart, Freddy Hall, Phil Collins

“In high school I was bullied by people I thought would support me and make me feel comfortable at school — members of the theater department. I felt as though my voice and my safe place at school had been ripped away from me. I stopped performing, I stopped singing, and I stopped standing up for myself. Within the past two years I have slowly found myself and I can confidently say singing helped me do that. Music has always been an escape and a means of sharing my feelings. Once I came to terms with what happened in high school, I allowed myself to not be afraid to put myself out there and sing for people again. When I started singing again, my confidence and my sense of self slowly started to reemerge. Music is the way we communicate when speaking won’t do. Music is also a way to bring people of all types together. The power of song impacts us all by creating a space for us to share what we have to say when all other forms of communication won’t suffice.”

I absolutely love to be out exploring and photographing things around me that I find interesting. The coronavirus pandemic has taken away the luxury of being able to leave my house at the drop of a hat. It has created a fear of leaving the comforts of my home and I just feel trapped. The virus has changed the way I live my day to day life by having to think about how to stay healthy even more than before.”

Andrea Gormley

Andrea Gormley

21, Straight
Sophomore, Frostburg State University
Major: Vocal Performance
Listening to: Ben Platt, the Puppini Sisters, Chet Baker

“Music can impact others through emotion. I know for myself, that when I’m sitting in an audience and listening to someone sing, I can feel the emotion they’re trying to convey to the audience. I can feel a specific emotion as well when performing. Music, in many ways, really touches the soul and makes you feel things familiar or sometimes entirely new.”

Brody Grant

Brody Grant

20, Straight
Junior, Shenandoah Conservatory
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: The Doobie Brothers, Justin Bieber, Ella Fitzgerald

“Singing is a medicine, honestly. Sometimes if I’m in a funk or it’s been a crazy week, I forget to sing for myself. But when I sit down to write a song, or even just figure out chords on the guitar and sing along, I always feel a little bit better. Not only that, but the community that singing has brought me is one that is full of loving and creative people. I would not trade this family of friends and mentors for the world. Just like every good art form, songs give people a snapshot of their life. Someone can listen to ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and say, ‘Wow, I feel this way right now. I feel down and out. Someone knows how I’m feeling. Someone else knows what this is like.’ And that is the beautiful thing about music: it’s neverending empathy.”

Al Gravina

Al Gravina

20, Gay
Junior, James Madison University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Frank Sinatra, Haley Reinhart, Lana Del Rey

“Song can move people more than almost anything. There’s something about the combinations of melodies, harmonies, vocals, orchestrations and lyrics that can speak directly to the soul, and I think that’s really beautiful. Coming from a town which never supported me because I was proudly openly gay and not having many gay role models, I’d love to be a model for those who grew up like me — just show them that it’s okay to be themselves, and they can make it through the rough patches.”

Collin Haber

Collin Haber

20, Gay
Junior, Temple University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Norah Jones, Ben Platt, Sam Smith

“Singing brings joy, comfort, and new perspectives. For my seventeenth birthday, my parents installed a karaoke system in our house, which is now used at every family occasion. I now have endless memories of belting out Whitney Houston with my family, which also go along with the memories of singing in car rides with friends, and while folding towels at work. It serves as my entertainment, escape to nostalgic memories, and door to new perspectives. Music gives people the permission to feel emotion. Whether it be excitement or sorrow, music has the power of bringing immense amounts of joy, while also smoothly hiding the lesson of a problem under a melodic line. It’s a language we turn to when our own language cannot fully express the emotions at hand. It’s a universal line of communication that requires no language, reminding people at the end of the day of how similar we all actually are, and I think that’s beautiful.”

Dallan Halkias

Dallan Halkias

21, Non-Binary
Junior, West Virginia University
Major: Voice
Listening to: Cyrille Aimee, King Princess, Norah Jones

Singing is the reason for my existence. It has saved my life, and given me a place to heal all of the brokenness that comes from a world full of hate and sorrow. Singing brings me joy, and thrills me with each note. The power of song can be different for every person. I have seen an elderly deaf man tap his foot along to the beat of my flute playing, with a huge grin on his face. I have seen my mom cry in the audience while I sang in a language she doesn’t even speak. Music has this unspeakable power to bring people together and help people to feel emotions and pure love, without the need to even understand the language.”

Isabel Hartzell

Isabel Hartzell

19, Straight
Sophomore, Temple University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Kristen Chenoweth, Julia Michaels, Frank Ocean

“Singing is my greatest joy other than the company of those I love. Singing is my passion in life and I see it as one of the most powerful vessels of expression and connection. My ultimate goal as a singer is to keep performing with others and for others for as much of my life as possible. I crave the special connection with others that making music, especially singing, creates.”

Alexa Joseph

Alexa Joseph

21
Junior, Temple University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Janis Joplin

“Singing has always been such a gift in my life that has allowed me to express myself. It has shaped everything about who I am and what I want to put out into the world. I know it has the power to heal and inspire, because that is what it has done for me. Music reaches out and affects people, it brings them together and allows us to have a moment where we can share our experiences and stories in a universal language. It has the power to uplift people when they are at their lowest lows, and gives people the chance to celebrate when they are at their highest. It is a conversation between artist and listener that makes people feel seen and heard.”

Katelyn Karpinski

Katelyn Karpinski

20, Bisexual
Sophomore, West Virginia University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michealson, Blondie

“Singing brings so much joy into my life. The rush and feelings that it brings me is something that I truly can’t explain. It must be what true happiness feels like. I think the power of song and an entertaining performance is unlike any other. As a musical theater major I’ve found that what I do is one of the only things that can bring people to tears and then have them laughing their heads off a minute later.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has taught me not to take things for granted. Just the simple idea of gathering with a few friends within six feet of each other has been taken away for this short time, and it has made life difficult in ways I didn’t think I ever would have to encounter. Other things that I took for granted were things like simply hugging people, going to coffee shops, going shopping, attending concerts, and these things have hurt more than I ever thought they would. I know that once this is over most of us will probably have a different outlook on life. I know I will.”

Drake Leach

Drake Leach

20, Straight
Sophomore, George Mason University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Jimmy Durante, Fun., Sammy Rae

“Singing is the most freeing form of expression for me — escapism through, simply enough, making pretty noise. Or sometimes it’s awful noise. But it’s a noise that you get to take ownership of. That is empowering to me, the ability to call something my own. It took me the longest time to discover the power in singing without perfection and how delightful that truly can be. I hope at the very least music brings unity. It’s easy to feel disconnected, particularly in a time where that physically actually is the case. Despite that, songs have the ability to supersede traditional interactions and find a place in the nostalgia of someone, or the deeper recesses of their emotions. It can move, it can reiterate, it can bring about new ideals. All this through rhythmic lyricism and orchestration, often all at the same time. It’s something we can all relate to in at least one way.”

“The pandemic has actually brought light to hidden joys in my life. I’ve gotten to dive into learning the piano, a pastime I’ve been meaning to focus on but never made time for. I’ve received more free online dance classes than should be reasonably taken, and recognized how much I miss my family and how wonderful it is to be surrounded by their presence and constant support. There’s so much to miss and regret right now that it’s been very illuminating to see how many aspects of my life were wonderful, and what strides I need to take to be more grateful for them.”

Elizabeth Ludlam

Elizabeth Ludlam

21
Junior, The Catholic University of America
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Ben Platt, Billy Joel, Taylor Swift

“From the moment I have been able to speak, I have been singing. Singing to me is life. It is a channel through which I can communicate emotions and experiences. It lifts me up when I am down. It is my way of connecting with people. I dream of being a professional performing artist and eventually open my own theater for artists with developmental disabilities.”

“March and April were going to be huge months for me. I was supposed to be playing Ronette in CUA Centerstage’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. My choir was going to tour the DMV area. I was so excited to perform at Arena Stage for the NextGen competition. My friend and I were going to move into an apartment together. Now, all of my plans have changed. All the hard work I spent preparing for my performances were mostly for nothing. I am at home in Charleston, S.C., living with six other people and trying to pursue a performance degree online. I have lost all three of my jobs. The end of my Junior year came far too soon. There are many friends that I never got to say goodbye to. Most of my belongings are locked in my room in D.C. and I have no idea when I will be able to collect them. Despite all this uncertainty, I am grateful for the health and safety of my family. I am happy that I am able to spend so much quality time with them. I am grateful for the technology that allows me to continue my education despite this pandemic. Finally, I am grateful that this situation has taught me not to take anything for granted.”

Samantha Mautner

Samantha Mautner

22, Ally
Senior, Temple University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Lady Gaga, Sia, Paramore

“Singing is kind of like a friend that is always there for me, something I can do when things are difficult (like right now). Music is an entirely universal language. Especially nowadays, so many of us (including myself) have short attention spans, and it is hard to focus on one thing at a time with distractions like social media and the constant question of ‘What’s next?’ But when a song comes on that you are drawn to, whether it’s on the radio or someone singing on TV or on a stage, it is mesmerizing. Parties feel empty without happy music and sad scenes in movies feel empty without sad music.”

Lucas Meinerding

Lucas Meinerding

18, Straight
Freshman, Liberty University
Major: Commercial Music: Recording, Engineering, & Producing,
Listening to: The 1975, The Band Camino, Jon Bellion

“It’s hard for me to describe how much the art of singing means to me. Just the act of simply humming along or directly singing every single word of a song brings me so much joy. I’ve been writing my own songs for a few years now, and the feeling of singing original words and melodies has brought a whole new wonder to the world of music for me, and I am ever-grateful for that. The power of song transcends so many boundaries: political, sexual, religious, racial, or any other point of view. That’s why countries put music to their national anthem, because no matter how much people disagree, if everyone knows the same song, there is potential for a connection. Songs like ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon or ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ by Bon Jovi are tunes that everyone can sing and everyone can relate to.”

Kaylee Michael

Kaylee Michael

20, Straight
Freshman, Ohio University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Queen, Billy Joel, Andrew Lloyd Webber

“There are very few things in life that I could do everyday and singing is one of them. I never get tired of expressing myself through a song and just letting go of everything else that might be going on in my life. Song is great at bringing forward emotions that we either have suppressed or have forgotten about.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has affected my life in the same way it has affected any freshman in college right now. I’ve just started school in this new environment and I just began making strong connections with the people in my program. It’s hard to be away from new friends, and now we aren’t allowed to be near old friends. It has given me some time to learn things about myself and what I need to stay motivated and put my best self forward in a situation I may not be prepared for or expecting. My family and I have had to cancel a few fun things we were going to do and it’s upsetting, but we are very fortunate to be in the place that we are right now and to be healthy.”

Erica Morchower

Erica Morchower

22, Lesbian
Senior, Shenandoah Conservatory
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Sammy Rae, Grimes, The 1975

“I view singing as a way to escape from the world for a few minutes, because when I’m singing I’m not thinking about politics (unless the lyrics are politically-driven). It brings a mix of different emotions into my life, depending on the day, but there is nothing like the feeling of singing your heart out in front of an audience and trusting yourself to complete this daunting task before you. The most that I have gained from singing is confidence and love for myself. If I can sing a sustained high C, I can literally do anything.”

Unfortunately, the final quarter of my senior year of college has come to a close. There are a lot of milestones that go hand in hand with the end of school that I will no longer get to celebrate. It’s extremely sad for me and my friends, as we were on Spring Break when we got the news that we would not be returning. I don’t know when I will get to go back to Winchester and say goodbye to the place I’ve lived and grown in for the past four years, which hurts a lot. I’m trying to keep my head up, though, because we will eventually get through this.”

Janelle Odom

Janelle Odom

21, Ally
Junior, Howard University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Tori Kelly, Leslie Odom, Cynthia Erivo

“My mom says I was born out of the womb singing, but I think my love for it really developed when I was five years old when I was given a solo in a Christmas musical. The song was ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus,’ and ever since then, I knew where my heart would lie for the rest of my life. Singing is the way I express myself and the only way the deepest emotions of my heart are able to pour out and release much of the tension I often hold. It brings peace and a sense of self-love in my life.”

The pandemic has really been an eye-opening and refreshing time which is ironic because of the state of the world. Personally, I think it is our job as artists to continue to create and use this time wisely to write, produce, and dive deeper into our craft. I feel it is my full responsibility as an artist to continue to be a light in the world that is suffering right now.”

Ethan Smith

Ethan Smith

20, Gay
Sophomore, Catholic University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Carole King, JoJo, Cher

“There is this moment every time that I sing where time seems to almost stop and I am completely and utterly free to be myself in that space. There is nothing in the world quite like the moment that you can share your voice with the world. It is such a special gift that everyone has been given, and I feel so lucky that I am able to experience that every day of my life. There is such a joy that I find when and I sing and time stops for just a little moment. Music has the power to change the world. I think that music can build bridges that physical bridges sometimes cannot. And in this time, where we are so uncertain, music can bring peace, joy, happiness, and beauty to people who need it.”

“The coronavirus has caused me to become much more self-aware about our need for empathy, compassion, and understanding in the world. The coronavirus has brought my life to a standstill and I think it has caused me to realize how important the smiles and kind words I give are to other people, especially in this time where we are self-quarantining without human to human interaction all the time. It has really brought people closer to me because I now remember to cherish life more often.”

Max Swartout

Max Swartout

20, Gay
Sophomore, Ohio University
Major: Music Education (Choral Emphasis)
Listening to: Dixie Chicks, Brandi Carlile, Miranda Lambert

I identify as a singer and musician — it’s a part of who I am. I will always make music because it brings me life, joy, comfort, and expression. Music is medicine. Music is expression. Music is communication. Music is history. The power of song is inconceivable. It is so diverse in its meaning and use around the world and among cultures. It is, frankly, a very interesting thing.”

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted my life, like many, at an unanticipated level. So much has changed. All of my classes are online, which is weird as a music major. I’m worried about the world, country, and my life. I want things to go back to normal.”

Kodiak Thompson

Kodiak Thompson

Junior, Temple University
21, Gay
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: YEBBA, Lizzo, Emily King

“When I listen to ’50s and ’60s music, I am teleported to a world that celebrates simplicity and authenticity. Though this time period was anything but simple, its songs capture a certain love and gratitude for the simple joys in life, in addition to a cry for progress. Perhaps because I grew up with it, to me this music represents freedom from worry and pain. It provides a new perspective in overcoming struggles, whether by honoring the human condition or providing a beautiful escape. It is my hope that my singing can honor the artists who came before me and continue to entertain, comfort, and inspire more creative hearts.”

Bekah Umansky Zornosa

Bekah Umansky-Zornosa

20, Bisexual
Sophomore, American University
Major: P.R. and Strategic Communications/Musical Theater
Listening to: The Beatles, Rex Orange County, The Beach Boys

“I have seen the power of song with my grandmother (I call her Wita). For some strange reason, Alzheimer’s only kindness is that it leaves the memory of music intact. Although little remains of the Wita I knew — even her drawings are reduced to black crayon scratches in a coloring book that once held rainbows — she can still sing a Spanish love song or dance to a Colombian cumbia. Music is our only language, and my only desire is to perform, to make the impossible leap between memory and experience and meet Wita in the only common ground we now share. I meet her in the space between the notes and cling to these rare moments, which won’t last for her and may one day escape from me.”

Savana Vaughn

Savana Vaughn

20, Straight
Senior, Liberty University
Major: Commercial Music – Artist Development
Listening to: Cody Fry, Jordy Searcy, JP Saxe

“I sing to express how I feel when I can’t quite put my feelings into words. When I sing, it feels like the whole world stops and everything is working in perfect harmony for just a moment. All my problems, worries, and doubts drift away for minutes at a time while I pour my heart out into the song. Singing brings me joy, comfort, and sometimes, healing. Worship is a huge part of my life, and I use my voice to worship God every time I open my mouth. He is the one who has gifted me with a voice and I live to worship Him.”

Kathleen West

Kathleen West

21, Ally
Senior, George Mason University
Major: Musical Theater
Listening to: Joni Mitchell, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Jack Johnson

“To me, singing is an escape, an expression, and a love. Like any art, it provides an outlet for the artist and an escape for the audience, from whatever it is that’s going on in our lives and our minds. The power of a song can impact us in whatever way we let it. That’s what I love so much about music, and about art, is that it means something different to every person. I love that I get to connect with music on the level that I love, and I love even that I get to share that with others.”

As a gal who regularly struggles with mental illness, this pandemic has been a big challenge. That’s another reason why I’m so grateful for the art and the community of artists in my life. We as a community have grown stronger than ever, constantly in support of each other, and continuing to create even in these scary and uncertain times. Art is going to be what gets us through this. I know it’s done wonders for me.”

The American Pops Orchestra‘s third annual NextGen vocal competition is Friday, April 24 (semi-finals), Saturday, April 25 (finals), and Sunday, April 26 (winners announced). The event starts at 8 p.m. EST on each evening. Register to receive a private live-stream link here. There is no charge, but the APO is asking for a suggested donation of $15 to $25 to help support its artists and musicians through these uncertain times.


Please Support LGBTQ Journalism

As a free LGBTQ publication, Metro Weekly relies on advertising in order to bring you unique, high quality journalism, both online and in our weekly edition. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced many of our incredible advertisers to temporarily close their doors to protect staff and customers, and so we’re asking you, our readers, to help support Metro Weekly during this trying period. We appreciate anything you can do, and please keep reading us on the website and our new Digital Edition, released every Thursday and available for online reading or download.

Leave a Comment:

Drink

To

 Pride!

Get Your Favorite

Pride Cover on a Mug!

15% OFF!

FREE SHIPPING!

LIMITED TIME ONLY!

2004-2019

The Latest Edition of Metro Weekly is Out!

 

Read It for Free Now!