Youth talent unveiled at AWC

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Stephanie Jimenez was shocked when she learned that she had won a chance to perform at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture next season and a cash prize of $500 when she was chosen as the top winner in the first ever Youth Talent Showcase.

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FELECIA MCFARLENE from CAPA performs a dance piece.

“I feel great about winning. I joined the contest because I wanted to have the experience. I didn’t enter it to win. I think I’m going to have to enter some more competitions,” said Jimenez, a 13-year-old CAPA high school eighth grader who lives in Squirrel Hill. She scored first place in the showcase by playing a beautiful rendition of Chopin’s “Fantasie Impromptu.”

“I learned the piece in a year and I have been working on it for a year and a half and when I thought about what I would do for this competition, I chose it because I thought it was ready,” said Jimenez, who has been playing classical piano since she was eight years old. In addition to the piano, she also plays the guitar and harp. She plans on pursuing a career in music and theater when she grows up.

Presented by the August Wilson Center and The Shyne Awards, the competition sought to find a new crop of talented youngsters to get coached by the August Wilson Center artistic directors and perform alongside one of the center’s nationally recognized ensembles next season and to perform at this year’s Shyne Awards.

“We’re proud to be a part of this. We rarely think of the arts as a career unless someone gets famous doing it and we want to identify people at an early age as artists and we want to give them a lifelong chance to do that,” said August Wilson Center President and CEO, Andre Kimo Stone Guess.

Jasmyne Gray’s rendition of the Etta James Classic, “At Last” won her the coveted spotlight shot at this year’s Shyne Awards.

“I grew up in the church and I like songs that mean something,” said Gray, a 17-year-old Gateway high School senior who has been singing since the age of five. “Singing is how I get my emotions out. I feel like I was born to do this and I’m glad I entered the talent showcase.”

“Positive youth need to be represented in our community. We want to put the best youth forward,” said Darnell Drewery, executive director of the Shyne Awards who served as one of the judges for the talent showcase. “There are youth that want to be doctors, lawyers and presidents of companies. We want to allow the young people to step out and shine like the stars they are.”

Now in its sixth year, the Shyne Awards is a premier awards ceremony that celebrates the positive achievements of young adults between the ages of 13-19. This year’s event will be held Aug. 25 at the August Wilson Center.

Spoken word artist Teireik Williams’ poignant plea to help save today’s youth struck a chord with Mark Clayton Southers, artistic director of theater initiatives at the August Wilson Center. Southers will collaborate with Williams to create a theatrical piece to be debuted at the center next season.

“I’m excited about the opportunity because it’s a different aspect that I’ve never explored before,” said Williams 17, who gets material for his work from his life experiences and the media.

Nicole Hill’s mesmerizing dance interpretation of Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work,” earned her a full scholarship to the AWC’s summer dance program headed by Greer Reed, artistic director of dance initiatives at the center.

“I love to dance because I connect with my uncle who died of Leukemia when I dance,” said Hill, a 14-year-old CAPA student. “I really wanted to come dance at the August Wilson Center because they are a great group of dancers.”

Hill’s fellow CAPA schoolmate Felecia McFarlane, an 18-year-old senior, choreographed a stunning modern dance piece to Beyonce’s “Resentment.”

The powerful steps earned her the chance to collaborate with Jimenez on a piece that will be performed at AWC next fall.

“I’m excited to choreograph something because I love to choreograph dances. I don’t have any professional dance training,” said McFarlane who will be attending Carlow University majoring in Biology in the fall.

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