Annual talent show reaffirms student culture and inclusivity

Nanditha Nagavishnu, Staff Writer

When performer Christian Sheehan reached a jumpy, frenetic part of his sonata composition, his energy focused on the piano keys, and the audience cheered in tune with the momentum. The audience swayed in their seats. A few acts later, Madison Faulkner’s “Stand Up” performance by Cynthia Erivo incites audience members to clap along to the beat, interspersing her promises of solidarity and strength with affirmative responses.

“The talent show this year is really exciting because it’s interactive,” sophomore Kayla Saveendra said. Saveendra won the 2021 talent show, held virtually due to pandemic restrictions. “I wasn’t as nervous last year. I am a very social person, but I have a small fear of being on stage in front of people. So this was good practice for me, singing something I love and making people happy with it.”

A distinguishing feature of this year’s show was the diversity of the acts. One might expect only instrument and vocal skills on show, but the properly choreographed dances and stunts students showed off were striking and entertaining. That is not to undermine any of the more soft or milder performances, as the contestant easily took all attention and held it until they ended.

“[The audience] were loudly supportive during the more energetic acts, and also respectful and observant during the more mellow ones,” theater director Tim Doyle said. “The most enjoyable part was to sit backstage and not necessarily watch only the acts, but to watch all of the performers backstage, observing from the wings and being so supportive. Being able to see the diversity in performances on the stage and celebrate them was really remarkable.”

For Doyle, many acts were of the type that students might not have seen before. The range from classical, ballet and fusion dances to light, immersive voices and strong harsh ones enabled a changing atmosphere where no act felt out of place.

“I was pretty skeptical at first, dancing Bharatanatyam at the talent show,” senior Dhurga Venugopal said, “but my parents didn’t want this to be a missed opportunity. I am practicing for a solo performance that you do once you’ve mastered the dance form to an extent, and you are supposed to memorize really long dances for that, so this didn’t stress me out much.”

For Doyle, who hosted the show, the experience was more than a dumb observation of the performers, extending to engagement with the audience. Doyle cracked jokes, easily flaunted the contestants, and participated in an interactive game that the school’s comedy troupe Out of The Blue conducted.

“I’ve been to things like this before, and I always love when the emcee on stage isn’t so dry,” Doyle said. “I didn’t want it to be like ‘next up is this, next up is that,’ but wanted to get a little bit of levity in between each one just to take a breath because all the acts were overwhelmingly good.”

Lipika Devara and Khanrad McCray shared the first prize, Christian Sheehan was the runner-up, and duo Makayla Coleman and Sunde Tolentino received the audience choice award. This talent show was the first to occur in an appropriate auditorium with lights and the audience. As a result, administrators expect that more students will get interested, building toward, as Doyle puts it, a “positive thing for our school and for our community.”

“Some kids have this conception of talent shows as karaoke or in a cafeteria setting,” Doyle said. “I got an opportunity to talk with Khanrad [McCay] backstage, who was a virtual student last year and decided that he had to do [the talent show] next year. I think all the acts were a special indicator that these shows are a really positive celebration of everybody at Rock Hill.”