Teenage singers, dancers, a saxophone player and a band gave their best at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium last Friday during the Richmond’s Got Talent show, a competition for a $500 first place prize. The event meant to inspire creativity and promote talent among youth.
“Faith and hope is what we intend to inspire in our young people,” said emcee AJ Jelani, in a speech kicking off the event. Jelani, who was also the coordinator of the event, is the acting president of the Belding Woods Neighborhood Council, which organized the talent show in an effort to steer middle and high school teens away from crime and violence by giving them a peaceful, creative summer activity.
An audience of about 200 people cheered and applauded the fifteen performances, including some that went far beyond amateur level. One of them was the performance of Haley Slamon, who sang “When You’re Good to Mama” from the musical Chicago. She showed coolness in her singing and stage presence. “I started singing when I was three or four but I haven’t taken professional singing ever,” said Slamon who has performed in front of large audiences before.
Other contestants were very new at performing, including 16-year-old Derlante Sims. “I just wanted to try for the first time on the stage,” he said. Sims loves music and singing, and he chose to perform “Summer Time” by Sam Cook. “The song makes me feel warm on the inside, so I wanted to sing that and let everybody know how it made me feel,” Sims said.
David Hernandez, almost 12, was one of the youngest performers, and enchanted the audience with his hip-hop moves during a solo dance performance. “He created the choreography himself, ” said his mother, Patricia Valdivia after he finished his act. “I’m very nervous and very excited for my child,” she said, pointing out that her son was talented but he never had a mentor.
After he finished performing Hernandez said that he would be happy if he wins, but if he didn’t he’d be happy, too, “because I danced, and I’m happy when I dance.”
Although there was more hip-hop than any other music during the event, Kalin Freeman played Michael Jackson’s “I’ll Be There” on his alto saxophone, an instrument he learned to play at Richmond High School. “If I win this, it’s a step for me to do something better,” he said. Freeman dedicated his performance to his uncle Clinton, who had recently passed away.
Most of the contestants showed confidence on stage. Some singers came down to dance and interact with the public. The audience kept getting more and more enthusiastic as the event progressed, and a few even participated, like when one audience member stepped up to the stage to rap.
Spontaneous participation was encouraged. When Lady-T, a professional young singer from Oakland, performed, some dancers from the group MalFUNKtion, who were competing in the contest, volunteered to accompany her song with their moves. Jelani, the emcee, constantly made people laugh and made them repeat “faith and hope,” throughout the show. He called nine year-old Alia Washington up onto the stage to help him co-host, too. During the show, the competitors showed no sign of rivalry. They were supportive of each other, clapping, cheering and singing along.
When the time came to select the winners, the judges gave the third place prize to David Hernandez for his solo hip-hop dance. Second place went to singer Haley Slamon. First place went to MalFUNKtion, a hip-hop dance troupe of eight male dancers, whose elaborate choreography showed hard work. The winners received trophies as well as cash prizes.
In another spontaneous move, individuals from the audience donated money for a fourth, fifth and sixth prizes that went to saxophone player Kalin Freeman, singer Ramell Jones and Ponopoly, a hip-hop band composed of three boys and one girl. All of the participants got certificates for competing in the talent show.
As she received her trophy, Slamon said how impressed she had been by the performances of those who had been onstage for the first time. “I’m so proud of everyone and so happy that I got to be a part of this,” she said as the crowd cheered.
The performers and the audience left the venue in high spirits. “I think events like this make the children feel that they are important,” said Patricia Valdivia, the mother of second place winner David Hernandez.
“Richmond needs to speak up and let everybody know that we have talent too,” said Sims.
Lu Parker, 82 came to see fifth place winner Ramell Jones perform—he is a friend’s grandson. Parker said there were more people that she expected and that she had fun. “I just enjoyed this show. It was beautiful to see all the talent,” she said.
Audience member Jackie Thompson said she was there to show support for the youth. “I know they need the support of the community,” she said. Thompson’s grandson was murdered in Richmond in 2003, and she said she is aware of the importance of networking with young people. “When they do something good we need to support them, so I’m here,” she said.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin attended along with her husband Paul Kilkenny, as did city council member Ludmyrna Lopez and her baby son.
Officer Reyes-García of the Richmond Police Department, who was monitoring the site during the event, said, “It was a real joy to see the kids performing and do what they really enjoy.” Reyes-García thinks events like this bring the neighborhoods together.
“We need to show the world that the youth has talent, especially in a city like Richmond,” said Raina Hinchee, one of the singers from sixth place winning band Ponoply. “A lot of people when they hear ‘Richmond,’ they just want to push away, but showing that this city has talent is really, really crucial.”