Just minutes before curtain at the seventh annual Young Talent Big Dreams (YTBD) finals, the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables pulsed with energy.
Theatergoers streamed into the brightly lit lobby, some clutching congratulatory flowers and signs, while backstage, excited young performers climbed up a narrow flight of stairs and settled into one of three packed dressing rooms, where last-minute preparations were underway.
In one corner, a group of dancers laughed and smiled as members reviewed their steps, while just a few feet away a trio of modern-day bards sat quietly contemplating the spoken word pieces they soon would deliver on stage. Next door, a Latin-fusion sextet plucked the strings of their instruments as a tuxedoed pianist straightened his tie. In the hallway, a guitarist practiced his solo one more time as the tune he strummed floated into yet another room, where a little girl with a big voice looked around the room in delight.
In all, 64 performers comprising 34 acts would be met by thunderous applause as they competed for top honors across nine different categories: Individual Vocals – Pop/Rock/Rap; Individual Vocals – Broadway/Jazz/Classical; Individual Original Composition; Bands/Group Vocal; Individual Spoken Word; Individual Musical Instrument; Group Musical Instrument; Individual Dance, and Group Dance.
Inspired by popular reality TV talent shows like America’s Got Talent, Young Talent Big Dreams is a free, countywide competition open to children ages 8-17 living in Miami-Dade, sponsored by The Children’s Trust in partnership with Actors’ Playhouse.
“We know that children who participate in the arts do better academically and socially,” said James R. Haj, president and CEO of The Children’s Trust. “They’re stronger readers and writers, they’re more self-aware and self-confident, and they’re more likely to graduate from high school and go on to continue their educations. Those a just a few reasons why I’m so proud that The Trust is able to provide opportunities like Young Talent Big Dreams to the children and youth of Miami-Dade.”
Parents were thankful for the initiative as well.
“The whole experience has been great,” said Palmetto Bay-area mom Betty Diaz, whose daughter, Erika Diaz, 11, a student at Leewood K-8 Center in Kendall, was competing in YTBD for the first time. “The feedback from the judges after her audition was fantastic, and really helpful.”
Luciana Lisboa agreed. The Doral resident, whose daughter Mel, 14, son Leonardo, 9, and nephew Mattheus, 12, together represented half the members of band Ritmo Latino, was especially grateful for the audition judges’ observations.
“The kids have never done something like this before, so getting direction from the judges on things like how they should move on stage and engage with the audience was perfect,” Lisboa said.
Lisboa also expressed her appreciation for the overall effect YTBD has had on her children, who attend Doral Academy; other members of Ritmo are students at St. Brendan Catholic School and Renaissance Charter.
“Mel, for example, is kind of shy, and I think this competition has really helped her grow,” Lisboa added. “Leonardo, too; he’d never played the cajón before and learned how to just for this.”
Seventeen-year-old Heriberto Castro, a student at Miami Arts Studio who began playing piano when he was 5, was not only marking his first time at YTBD, the competition was his first, ever. Backstage before the show, he shared the piece he would perform, Chopin’s Étude Opus No. 25, as well as some of his musical inspirations.
“Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry cartoons, when they played Franz Liszt’s famous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2,” Castro laughed.
Every act, every performer, shined bright as he or she took the stage, but it was the passionate, precise and well-choreographed moves of Dynasty Step Team that labeled the Miami Norland Senior High School students the Grand Prize winners.
“It’s great to know that all the long, hard practices paid off,” said Samarah Bissainthe, 15, as her teammates nodded their heads in agreement. “I’m really proud of us!”
YTBD 2017 Winners:
Grand Prize — Dynasty Step Team: Samarah Bissainthe, 15; Ken Bonner, 17; Aaliyah Buissereth, 15; Jamyah Fils-Aime, 17; Jada Newball, 17, and Mishael Norvil, 14 (all attend Miami Norland Senior High School)
Individual Vocals-Pop/Rock/Rap — Angelina Green, 13, South Miami Middle School
Individual Vocals-Broadway/Jazz/Classical — Irene Newman, 13, Nativity Catholic School
Individual Original Composition — Melvys Barrios, 17, Miami Beach Senior High School
Bands/Group Vocal — Broadway Babies: Victoria Martinez, 10, John I. Smith K-8 Center; Alaia Mendoza, 12, Doral Academy; Mikela Mendoza, 11, John I. Smith K-8 Center; Fabiana Montenegro, 13, Doral Academy; Karina Tejera, 12, Southwood Middle School, and Natalie
Wainer, 10, John I. Smith K-8 Center
Individual Spoken Word — Ni-Ja Maxwell, 16, Miami Norland Senior High School
Individual Musical Instrument — Heriberto Castro, 17, Miami Arts Studio
Group Musical Instrument — Jackson 6: Ivan Chen, 12, Doral Academy; Moana Fujiwara, 10, Doral Academy; Javier Hernandez Garcia, 12, Dr. Rolando Espinosa K-8 Center; Stephanie He, 12, Ada Merritt K-8 Center; Amanda Papp, 11, Doral Academy, and Bryan Ramirez, 8,
Doral Downtown Charter Elementary
Individual Dance — Meylan Duarte, 13, Creative Dance Studio
Group Dance — Dynasty Step Team: Samarah Bissainthe, 15; Ken Bonner, 17; Aaliyah Buissereth, 15; Jamyah Fils-Aime, 17; Jada Newball, 17, and Mishael Norvil, 14 (all attend Miami Norland Senior High School).