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Musical acts try out for show in New York

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Joshua Whitfield performs 'You Are Not Alone' as he auditions Saturday during the Road to New York Open Call Auditions at the Opportunities Industrialization Center.

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By PATRICK MASON
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 8, 2018

For four hours on Saturday afternoon the OIC Auditorium came to life.

Twenty-five acts, ranging from R&B and rap performances, to solo and group singing efforts, as well as performers with guitar and harmonica accompaniments, did their thing on the stage at the old Booker T. Washington school in Rocky Mount. All shared the same hope of making it through to New York.

Those who impressed a panel of judges will be selected to perform during a live show in August, and the winners of that competition will win an all expenses-paid trip to New York for a chance to audition at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Open auditions were held from noon to 4 p.m. A number of powerful voices came through during the four-hour time block, while the laid-back atmosphere made for a comfortable environment for those with little experience.

Malik Jackson was one of those performers. A little before 3 p.m., Jackson, 20, took the stage and offered his rendition of a song by Sam Smith.

“I just love singing and thought ‘Why not?’” Jackson said. “I’ve been singing since I was a kid, and I always listen to him, so it just came to my mind to do a song by him.”

Jackson, a Rocky Mount High graduate, said he had never sang in an audition-style environment in front of judges without classmates. He admitted to being a little nervous, but it did not show on stage.

“When I was in school we would go as a class to perform things, but that was about it,” he said. “I was kind of nervous, but I knew all the words so I figured I’d be fine. And the Apollo, that’s what I was aiming for. I used to watch shows sometimes, and thought it was worth a shot.”

Captain Newborn, the senior producer of the tour, said he was impressed with the talent that came through the doors. He had scouts visit a number of areas ahead of the auditions to see if a smaller city like Rocky Mount would be a viable location.

The tour has made other stops in North Carolina in previous years, including a stop in Durham in 2015, which produced the would-be winner of the event. Joshua Ham, then a 15-year-old sophomore at Mount Zion Christian Academy, performed a Michael Jackson son and looked the part complete with a fancy outfit.

This year, the response was overwhelming in favor of making a stop in Rocky Mount. The city is right off the highway and, after seeing local school plays and church group performances, the talent scouts were sold.

“Right away we had talent scouts come back and say there was plenty of talent here,” said Newborn, who grew up in Kinston. “The kids acts blew me away. The kids that came in were tremendous. We had about five or six that could go on and win the whole thing right now.”

Newborn said there will always be a part of him that connects with North Carolina.

“I know there’s lots of talent there,” Newborn said. “It’s really all over, and I wanted to showcase and find the hidden gems that live here in the smaller towns of Eastern North Carolina.”

The auditions were split into two categories: Children ages 5 to 17 and adults from 18 and older.

Those who impressed the panel of judges on Saturday will be contacted shortly with an invitation to perform at a nationally televised event sponsored by the Road to New York Open Call Auditions.

Newborn said that the show, complete with a band, singers and more will be broadcast in 48 million homes. The show beings at 6 p.m. on Aug 25. at the OIC Auditorium.

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