The Laurel Youth Music Showcase is in its second season of showing off the musical talent of local youth at Granville Gude Park.
Jamal Lee, owner and founder of Breasia Productions in Laurel, describes the weekly show as a place for youths to show off their talent in front of a supportive audience in a safe environment. Although the competition is only open to performers between the ages of 13 and 19, people of all ages are welcome to come and watch.
"I believe that if we rally around our young people, they will rally around us," said Lee. "We have to get up under our young people and show them that we care about them."
Lee said he started the showcase last summer to provide an opportunity for musically talented young people to succeed. He said Mayor Craig Moe and City Council President Frederick Smalls embraced his idea for the showcase immediately.
"We have great support from the city of Laurel," he said, adding that other council members such as Valerie Nicholas have also provided assistance and support. "Last year we had a pretty good turnout."
This year has come with its own set of challenges. Bad weather has forced Lee to cancel multiple showcases in a row, making it difficult to maintain traction each week and increase audience size.
"We have no control over the rain," he said, "but when we do have the events outside they've just been phenomenal."
Every week, winners are determined by an online voting system hosted on Breasia's website. At the final show of the summer on Aug. 21, the winners from previous weeks will compete for the chance to record their own song in Breasia's studio.
"That winner has the privilege of coming in to record and having a mastered copy that could go to radio," said Lee. "If you have good music, or something that you've been wanting to perform or wanting to record, this is the venue and the place."
Lee said most showcase performers are vocalists, but many also play instruments like drums, guitar or keyboard.
"We're looking for that individual talent," he said. "As long as it's clean, we can work with that."
'A warmer initiation'
The Legendary Cloud 9 opens the showcases as the house band every Thursday. The group, made up of Michael "T. K." Akinlosotu on vocals, Jonathan "Footz" Livas, on drums and Adam Lee on guitar, got their start at a Laurel High School talent show.
"We're the only act that's older than the age limit," said Akinlosotu. "We play here so we can get the vibe going at the event and inspire some of the younger kids to come out and perform."
Though Laurel is filled with talent, there isn't an abundance of opportunities for them to perform, outside of the occasional talent show, he said.
"When we were in high school, we were grinding in one of our members' basements. We really didn't have a place to show our talent," said Livas. "I'm really excited for these kids because it's definitely a better platform for them, and it promotes musical education."
Akinlosotu added: "It's great to get the kids out here and keep them from doing things that they shouldn't be doing and keep them involved in something positive, something for the community."
Bria Petway was one of the performers at last week's showcase. She's been singing since she was a child, but this was the first time she had performed at LYMS.
"We come to this park sometimes to run, sometimes me and my sister come to watch movies," she said. "I heard about it through that."
Petway is studying music in Baltimore, and hopes that events like these can give her the boost to turn her singing from a hobby into a career.
Last year's grand prize winner, NicKayla Tucker, said she competed in the showcase about five times and had the chance to perform her own original music. At the finale, she performed her song "No Permission" along with backup dancers.
"Lots of kids, especially from Laurel High School, are interested in music outside of school, but they don't know if they want to be a performer or take it on as a career," she said. "[LYMS] gives them a warmer initiation into performing. Instead of being in front of only strangers, you have people in the audience that you know."
Lee said he hopes to see this type of showcase model grow to become a nationwide initiative.
"The news you hear is pretty devastating on a regular basis, but we don't hear enough about the good things that are going on in the community," he said. "I know this is one of them."