Who’s Loudoun’s most talented new voice? The 16-year-old phenom? The dad/engineer with a few gray hairs and a love of classic country and reggae? The aspiring actress on her way to LA? Or one of more than 20 other semi-finalists in the inaugural Ashburn’s Got Talent competition organized by Broadlands’ Blend coffee bar?
For Blend’s owners Tracey Powell and Mimi Backhausen, the competition has been a fun way to celebrate the bar’s first anniversary, showcase area performers and give back to some of their favorite charities. The contest, which drew more than 50 contestants to a series of preliminary rounds, will showcase 26 winners in the Oct. 8 semifinal round and roughly half that number in the Oct. 22 final.
With contestants ranging from 13 to middle age, the competition has been a chance for musicians of all ages to perform publicly and get feedback from notable judges, including music teachers, musical theater maven Teri Walker and singer/songwriter Todd Wright.
For Kaycee Hubbard, 16, a junior at Chantilly High School in Fairfax County, the competition has been a way to get some experience with public performance as she ponders a career in music. With a retro-cool choice for her audition, Hubbard wowed judges with her rendition of “If You Believe” from the musical “The Wiz” made famous by Lena Horne in the 1978 movie.
Hubbard, who studies voice with South Riding-based vocal coach Tracy Hamlin, is looking at vocal performance programs at UCLA and New York University. AGT was an opportunity to perform publicly in a relatively low-key environment and she found the judges’ feedback constructive.
“I definitely felt it was helpful,” Hubbard said. “It’s helped me improve my singing.”
For Hubbard, the competition could very possibly be the beginning of a promising career in music. For Timothy James of Leesburg, AGT is a springboard into an eventual second act in life. James works as an engineer by day but has been slowly building a musical side-career, with a few gigs at wineries under his belt, and is hoping to turn music into a second career when it’s eventually time to retire.
James, known for his rich baritone, has a passion for classic country and contemporary country with a classic flair. He also has a soft spot for reggae and enjoys translating favorite jams into his own style. James sang Zac Brown’s “Colder Weather” for his audition and will likely shake things up for the semi-finals with a less well-known Peter Tosh number.
For Christi McCarthy, the contest has been a chance to hone her performance skills while staying with her parents in Leesburg for a few months between college graduation and a planned move to Los Angeles. The Heritage High School grad, who recently graduated from Missouri State University, will head to LA in January to study comedy improv and build connections in the music industry.
McCarthy impressed observers with her version of Sara Bareilles “King of Anything” despite a tiny case of nerves and some slightly shaky high notes. And while she’s hoping to take it all the way, she says the event has already been worthwhile in terms of connections and feedback from judges.
“The prize money would be nice but I think the most valuable thing is meeting other musicians and other talented people in the area,” McCarthy said. “The most important part about being an artist is being able to collaborate with others. … I think a local competition like this is a great opportunity to meet like minded people.”
Another upside to the contest, for both competitors and organizers, is the charity component. Proceeds raised from the $30 entry fee for contestants will go to Friends of Loudoun Mental Health and Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, two nonprofits that have a special place in the organizers’ hearts. The event has garnered sponsorships from local businesses thanks in part to event planning and project management assistance from Angelique Agutter of Dimarva Events and Chris Powell (no relation to Tracey Powell) of Unified Line3, a consulting firm that works with businesses to help them meet community service goals.
The winner of the competition gets a $500 prize and a chance to perform at the Broadlands Live summer concert next year. There will also be a special award for a songwriter among the contestants–a songwriting workshop package donated by Wright’s Half King Studios.
And while the preliminary rounds have been relatively low-key, the semi-finals and finals will be bigger shows–with an outdoor stage donated by local singer/songwriter Ted Garber and hosted by local personality Elaine Espinola Keltz–Mrs. DC America 2015 and owner of a local public relations firm.
Contestants say they’ve got a boost of confidence following the prelims, and judges have encouraged them to give it their all in the upcoming rounds.
“I’m really happy we’re providing a venue to learn their craft,” Powell said. “I think that the contestants are hearing that message to really go for it and show what they’ve got. It’s going to be a very entertaining evening.”
The Ashburn’s Got Talent semi-final show takes place Saturday, Oct. 8 from 6 to 9 p.m. The final showcase is slated for Saturday, Oct. 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. Admission is free and attendees can purchase tickets to vote for their favorite contestants for $1. Blend Coffee Bar is located at 43170 Southern Walk Plaza in Ashburn. For more information, go to blendcoffeebar.com.