Presented by The Children’s Trust in partnership with Actors’ Playhouse, Young Talent Big Dreams (YTBD) is a free performing arts competition open to Miami-Dade County children and youth ages 8 to 17. Some 500 hopefuls are expected to audition this year, the competition’s seventh, in six categories: pop/rock/rap vocals, musical theater/jazz standards/classical vocals, musical instrument, original spoken word, original vocal and/or instrumental composition, and dance. Groups of two to six members also may compete in the categories of dance, musical instrument and band/vocal.
Seven auditions will take place throughout the county over a two-month period, judged by panels of local performing arts professionals. The April semifinals will be broken down into two days to accommodate the large number of performers who will make it that far; the finals, sponsored by Wells Fargo, happen in May.
“The competition is a real opportunity for children to explore their talents and receive valuable feedback from our judges,” said Barbara Stein, executive producing director at Actors’ Playhouse.
Styled as it is after such popular shows as American Idol and The Voice, YTBD offers its contestants a taste of professional mentoring they may otherwise never receive.
In fact, judges write down their thoughts and comments on every act that auditions. They areshared later with participants who advance to the semifinal rounds in order to guide performance improvement.
“It shows the kids that we’re not there to cut them down, but to help them grow,” said YTBD artistic director and emcee Earl Maulding, who also serves as Actors’ Playhouse’s director of theater for young audiences.
“It’s amazing to witness the change in these young people from the preliminaries to the finals — the boost to their confidence and performance levels is phenomenal.”
And while some first-timers may get nervous and need two or three tries to get started, Maulding said once the stage fright passes, “I wait for that moment when they realize they’re going to be okay. That’s when they relax and you can see the performer they really are — and that’s a fantastic moment.”
Francesca Winer, 15, of Surfside, 2016 YTBD grand prize winner, knows exactly what that feels like.
“When I stepped out on stage, I was shaking like crazy,” Winer recalled of the finals. “But then I started singing and just became one with the song…it was amazing!”
The Miami Arts Charter School student, who first auditioned for YTBD when she was just 8 years old, competed against two close friends from the same Wynwood school last year; the three supported each other all the way through.
“That’s just the way the competition is,” Winer said. “There’s no jealousy. Everyone is just happy for each other, and happy for the chance to perform.”
Her father and biggest fan, Marco Winer, also praises the upbeat atmosphere of YTBD.
“It’s very professional,” he noted. “The attitudes from the people backstage all the way to the main figures creates enthusiasm, and Earl Maulding, he is such a good teacher. He really thinks about how to talk to children and guide them on how to handle an audition.”
The competition’s grand prize package includes $500 and a trip for two to the Teen Choice Awards in Los Angeles, courtesy of WSVN Channel 7. Other prizes include tickets to local shows, arts scholarships and more.
But YTBD is much bigger than its prizes — The Children’s Trust sponsors the event as a means to promote arts education and self-esteem-building. Equally important, it gives young people in Miami-Dade County a chance to realize a dream and enjoy an incredibly enriching experience, regardless of income or whether they have had professional training.
Our Lady of Lourdes Academy student Carolina Rivero, 17, tried out twice — even making it to the finals — before finally clinching it on her third try last year, singing Rise Up to a win in the pop/rock/rap vocals category.
“I made some great friends, and I’ve even had a chance to perform with another finalist, Dymon Smith, a New World School of the Arts student from Homestead who danced while I sang at The Children’s Trust Champions for Children Awards,” Rivero said. “I do get nervous, but once I’m on stage I’m in the moment; it’s incredible.”
Semifinalists and winners have nabbed opportunities to perform professionally, both locally and beyond, including at Children’s Trust board meetings, Chamber of Commerce events, municipal celebrations such as tree lightings, hotel openings and other corporate happenings. Since her YTBD win, Winer has successfully competed to attend the prestigious Grammy Camp in Los Angeles, as well as secure a spot as a 2017 finalist with the National YoungArts Foundation.
But no matter what YTBD performers go on to do in their lives, Stein said participating in the competition has lasting effects.
“Learning to perform on stage is useful no matter what you do as an adult, say, as a lawyer performing in court, for example, or an executive working in a corporation,” she said. “It builds your confidence, self-worth and communication skills.”
“I never expected to win; I had auditioned twice before,” Winer added. “Young Talent Big Dreams taught me to never give up.”
Remaining audition dates:
• Saturday, Mar. 11, noon-6 p.m., Miami Arts Studio
15015 SW 24 St.;
• Saturday, Mar. 25, noon-5 p.m., African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 6161 NW 22 Ave.;
• Sunday, Apr. 2, 3-7 p.m., Miracle Theatre;
• Saturday, Apr. 8, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Miracle Theatre, and
• Saturday, Apr. 15, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Miracle Theatre.
Semifinal auditions will take place at the Miracle Theatre on Apr. 29 at 7 p.m. and Apr. 30 at 3 p.m.; finals are Saturday, May 6, at 7 p.m.
Complete rules, forms and additional information are available at www.actorsplayhouse.org/young_talent.htm