Ashburn’s Got Talent Spotlights Fresh Voices

Budding performers as young as 13 are coming out of the woodwork and stepping up to the mic this month to showcase their musical prowess.

Ashburn’s Got Talent is again turning up the volume on Loudoun County’s skilled musicians and vocalists. The singing competition, now in its second year, wrapped up auditions Saturday and will go into a semi-finals event Saturday, Sept. 16 and the finals Saturday, Sept. 23.

The local talent contest was created by Blend Coffee Bar owners Tracey Powell and Mimi Backhausen. They’d heard about a similar competition put on by Caffè Amouri in Fairfax County called Vienna Idol, and thought their coffee bar’s outdoor patio in Broadlands would be a perfect venue for a similar event.

“We wanted to highlight young people who may not otherwise have a chance to play out. They’re not known enough to play at a winery or some of the bigger restaurants,” Powell said. “This is a good starting point for them.”

Forty-nine performers signed up for Ashburn’s Got Talent this year, vying for the $500 grand prize, not to mention a great way to kick start their music career.

Nine singer-songwriters and music instructors are serving as judges for the competition, giving out points for song selection, stage presence, and vocals. As of this week, the field has been narrowed down to 22 performers, who will step on stage again this Saturday for the semi-finals event. Eleven will be selected from that group to go on to the finals Saturday, Sept. 23.

Kiran Kairab, an Ashburn-based singer-songwriter who served as a first-time judge, has been impressed by the boldness and talent of some of the youngest contestants to step into the Ashburn’s Got Talent limelight. More than once during auditions, she heard a petite 13- or 14-year-old whisper on their way to the microphone how nervous they were. “Then they get up there in front of all these people and knock it out of the park,” Kairab said.

View a Loudoun Now photo slideshow of the auditions here.

She initially assumed the contestants have been performing most of their lives, but most have just recently learned an instrument or started singing publically. “What’s really great is to see the potential they have because they’re starting so young, so what they’ll be able to do in just a few years is really exciting,” Kairab said.

The judges have seen a lot of creativity on stage, with singers offering their own takes on cover songs or performing their own original music. They have also seen more young performers than last year’s event.

“It was a nice range from 13 to 30 year olds, but definitely trended younger this year,” Powell said. Contestants must be at least 13 years old to enter, but it sounds like there’s demand from even younger performers. “So now I’m kind of wondering if I should do a younger version and maybe an adult competition.”

But, Powell noted, that the age gap and generally having less experience performing didn’t stop 15-year-old Will Salzman from winning the very first Ashburn’s Got Talent last year.

Kairab commended Blend Coffee Bar for launching Ashburn’s Got Talent. She said the event is not only a way to benefit area charities but also a chance to bring people together to celebrate the arts. “It’s nice to see on a Saturday night a family-oriented event that really inspires something great around the arts. It brings people together in a very wholesome way.”

All of the money from contestants’ $35 entry fee will be donated to Friends of Loudoun Mental Health and Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers.

Powell, a former school counselor, said she’s been struck by the number of local young people who have taken their own lives in recent years. Eleven Loudoun teens have lost their lives to suicide in the past two years, according to Friends of Loudoun Mental Health. The organization is working to teach educators to how provide life lines to their students.

“In my counseling I was struck by the level of distress that middle and high school kids were feeling,” Powell said. “We want to support Friends of Loudoun Mental Health’s work in educating educators about what to look for.”

By the end of the competition, Powell’s goal is to deliver $2,000 checks to both Friends of Loudoun Mental Health and Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers. Items auctioned off during the semi-finals and finals will also raise money for the organizations.

See the musicians who have risen to the top at the semi-finals on Saturday, Sept. 16, and finals on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Blend Coffee Bar, 43170 Southern Walk Plaza Suite 120 in Ashburn. Performances run from 6 to 9 p.m. Elaine Espinola Keltz, Mrs. DC America 2015 and host of Comcast Cable show “I’m Every Woman,” will serve as the host for the finals. Learn more at blendcoffeebar.com/agt.

Ashburn’s Got Talent judges, from left, Kiran Kairab, Bobbe Shore and Tracy Hamlin talk with Haditha Guhan about her performance. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
dnadler@loudounnow.com
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