Playing to win
A brillar en tarima
More than a song and dance
The Bronx Youth Talent Show Grand Finale takes center stage
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
9-year-old Nia Teruel sported a tiara, a long, white dress, pink lipstick, and a big smile.
She only dresses like this on special occasions.
“I don’t like to get dressed up,” she explained. “I just like to look pretty to do something amazing.”
And Nia did, in fact, do something amazing on Thurs., May 16th at the first-ever Bronx Youth Talent Show Grand Finale, sponsored by Healthfirst and held at Lehman College’s Lovinger Theatre.
Her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” received a standing ovation, and Nia was certain she would win the individual singing category of the talent show.
“I know I’m going to win because all the judges were crying,” she said, matter-of-factly. “And my mom had a dream I was going to win.”
Winning the talent show would certainly be a big event for Nia.
The talent show had two categories: the individual singing category and the group dancing category.
24 finalists between the ages of 9 and 13 competed in the Grand Finale, and the winner of each category would earn $1,000 for after-school program with which they were associated.
Second place winners would take away $600, and third place winners got $400 for their programs.
The decision to focus on Bronx talent was a deliberate choice by sponsors.
“The tremendous amount of talented youth in the Bronx who go unnoticed due to a lack of opportunities is one of the main reasons Healthfirst made it a priority to host this event,” explained Shirley Cox, Healthfirst Director of Facilitated Enrollment. “We are pleased to make a difference in the lives of these children, as well as the schools, while promoting the development of healthy minds through expression and creativity.”
During a time when programs are facing steep budget cuts, the prize money could bring much-needed capital to the groups.
Backstage, Luz Vásquez and Omen Barner were talking about what they would do with the prize money if their dance group, Toxic Swagg, won.
Toxic Swagg is based out of Betances Community Center near St. Ann’s Park.
As they spoke before performing, about a dozen of the group’s dancing teenagers were splayed out on the floor in various stretches.
“If we get blessed to win, we’ll get a dance studio, uniforms—pretty much whatever the kids agree with,” said Vásquez.
While the prize money would be welcomed, it wasn’t the main reason the group was performing that night.
“We’re dancing for the love of it all,” said Barner.
In the hallway, a group of third and fifth graders from PS 64 were gearing themselves up to go onstage and perform a hip-hop number that would include the Harlem Shake, among other moves. The group is part of the New Settlement after-school program.
They had performed once before during the elimination process, and were now happy to be finalists in the talent show.
“I was nervous, but I got over it,” said Anglein Yepes, a fifth grader.
Michelle Espada, who was shepherding the students, already had a wish list ready if the team won a cash prize.
It included supplies, equipment, and summer trips.
She said she was happy with how the group had thus far stepped up to the plate, despite the novelty of the experience.
“This is their first time competing against other schools. Usually we just compete against other kids in our program just for fun.”
The group waited for its turn patiently, and took the opportunity to peek at the individual singers as they performed in front of the judges, who were hand-picked from several Bronx entertainment, arts and media circuits.
Among the judges were Univision Radio Personalities Noel Mercado and Sophie Peralta; singer and dancer Kaitlin Dwyer; and Joseph Alexander, the director of the Edward Morgan Ballet.
The crooner of choice that night seemed to be Adele, as several variations of “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Rolling in the Deep” were sung throughout the night.
But in the end, Whitney Houston, and Nia Teruel prevailed.
When Nia was announced the first place winner, she burst onto the stage in tears of joy, and received another standing ovation for her performance.
Her family later met her onstage.
Her mother, Latisha Williams, recalled the dream she had the night before.
“I was crying when I woke up. I told her in the dream that she could do it, and she did it.”
The family is well aware of the power of Nia’s voice.
“She sings in the shower, she sings when she’s angry, she sings when she talks to you. She just sings,” remarked her step-father, Christopher Helvestine.
Nia has six sisters, and her younger sister, Nellise, often dances in accompaniment to her songs.
Teruel’s performance earned her school, PS 58, money for its after-school program.
And Toxic Swagg can also start thinking about new uniforms: the group won second place in the group dance category, and PS 64 won third place, which means they can start planning those summer trips.