Spotlight

Young Talent Big Dreams: Miami’s Got Talent!

Published Monday, May 15, 2017

Through a dark backstage corridor and up a narrow flight of stairs, the dressing rooms of the Miracle Theatre pulsed with excitement.

All the night’s winners

In the hallway, a young man with kohl-rimmed eyes practiced a guitar solo, while just a few feet away a trio of modern-day bards sat quietly contemplating the spoken word pieces they'd soon deliver on stage. Next door, a Latin-fusion sextet plucked the strings of its instruments as one of the group's "momagers" readied the scarlet roses they'd carry – one clamped between his teeth! – during its act. And in yet another room, alongside a chattery group of dancers limbering up and going over their steps just one more time, a tiny young girl with a very big voice leaned her head on her mother's shoulder and smiled as she imagined the moment she'd step out before the audience and give it her all.

It was just minutes before curtain at the seventh annual Young Talent Big Dreams (YTBD) finals, and thunderous applause would soon be bouncing off the walls of the main stage theater as excited theatergoers, some clutching congratulatory flowers and signs, cheered on the 64 performers competing 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.

Aniyè Strachan"Study after study has shown that children who participate in the performing arts do better at reading, writing and math," said James R. Haj, president and CEO of The Children's Trust. "Involvement in the arts also leads to self-reliance and increased empathy and compassion. I'm proud that The Trust can provide such a wonderful opportunity to the children of Miami-Dade."

Parents are grateful for the initiative as well.

"It's a great competition," said Monique Strachan, whose 14-year-old daughter Aniyè Strachan, a student at Miami Arts Charter, was competing in the finals for the second time. "It encourages young people to where they're deterred from the negative things happening in our community, and exposes them to positivity."

Erika Diaz"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 really helpful."

Ritmo Latino got the audience clapping.Luciana Lisboa agrees. 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 anything like this before," said Lisboa, "so getting direction from the judges on things like how they should move on stage and engage with the audience was perfect."

Jeremiel SylneFourteen-year-old Jeremiel Sylne was enjoying his first time at the finals; the Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School student would play a jazzy, Ragtime-era Turner Layton piece on the piano.

"It's called 'After You've Gone,' and it's the first song I ever learned to play on the piano," said an enthusiastic Sylne. "Before that, I only played drums. My mentor played it for me one day and I was like, 'Yo, you gotta teach me that!'"

Ni’Ja MaxwellNi'Ja Maxwell, 16, also performed for the first time this year, delivering an intense monologue about growing up black in the public school system.

"The name of my piece is Changes; I've been working on it a year," said the Miami Norland Senior High School student before the show's start. "But I've been doing spoken word for about three years now."

Every act, every performer, shined bright as they took the stage, but it was the precise, dramatic moves of Dynasty Step Team that labeled the Miami Norland Senior High School students the Grand Prize winners.

Spotlight Main"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!"

That unabashed exuberance, and the realization that hard work and persistence can lead you to your goals, are just some of the reasons why finals judge Natalie Lewis-Schere, co-founder and executive director of PATH, Preserving, Archiving & Teaching Hiphop, comes back year after year to support YTBD.

"As a young person growing up, having mentorships and being encouraged by adults was a critical part of my success," said Lewis-Schere after the show. "I'm standing here today, being able to do what I do and pass it on to others, because of that."

YTBD 2017 Winners

Grand Prize Winner
Dynasty Step Team: Samarah Bissainthe, 15; Ken Bonner, 17; Aaliyah Buissereth, 15; Jamyah Fils-Aime, 17; Jada Newball, 17; 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; 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 Prep; 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; Mishael Norvil, 14; all attend Miami Norland Senior High School

Written by Elisa Chemayne Agostinho

Photography by Gregory Reed