On a hot July evening, 9-year-old Chantale Noesi stepped onto the Burton Memorial Stage at Laurel's Granville Gude Park.
After introducing herself, Chantale dove into a performance of Christina Aguilera's "Hurt" as a karaoke track played over the speakers. Without missing a beat, she powered through the ballad to cheers and applause from the modest-but-attentive crowd watching her, saying afterward, "I felt good."
Chantale's performance was part of the Laurel Youth Music Showcase, a summer open mic series that gives area children and teenagers an opportunity to show off their musical talents on Thursday evenings at Granville Gude Park.
Performers can sign up at the start of each concert, and if they are able to collect the most votes in an online poll to determine the night's best act, they will be featured in a finale concert in August.
Fior Bonilla, Chantale's mother, said it was an emotional experience watching her daughter, who has been singing since she was five.
"[Chantale] is very shy, but today she made it up to the stage," Bonilla said.
A Laurel production company, Breasia Studios, and Laurel's Department of Parks and Recreation are running the Laurel Youth Music Showcase collaboratively.
Jamal Lee, the founder and director of Breasia Studios, said he devised the showcase as a way to connect with young people and have a positive influence on them.
"It's a losing battle that we're having in society with young people right now," Lee said. "We have to show them that we have a supportive type of environment."
Lee and his team shared their vision with Mayor Craig Moe several months ago and were met with an enthusiastic response.
"He immediately opened up and said, 'Yes, let's do it,'" Lee said.
During last Thursday's showcase, Moe took a break from a bike ride around the park to catch some of the performances.
"They're doing a good job," he said.
Breasia business manager Nailah Lee, Jamal Lee's wife, said the showcase is for young musicians interested in any instrument or genre.
"If they write, if they sing, if they have a band and they are rehearsing in the living room of your house," she said, "this is a perfect space for them to perform."
Breasia is targeting schools and a number of other outlets to spread the word about the Laurel Youth Music Showcase, and Jamal Lee recently promoted it as a guest on the "Steve Harvey Morning Show."
So far, turnout has been fairly low at the concerts; Chantale was one of two performers the night she attended, and Breasia house band Cloud 9 played to fill up the rest of the time. However, the organizers are confident that the showcase will grow as the summer progresses.
"I don't want anybody to get discouraged," Moe said. "It's going to take some time to build."
"We're going to work a little harder to get kids to come out," Nailah Lee said. "We want the youth to not be afraid."
Founded in 2005, Breasia Studios has assisted with audio production for the Emmy Awards, the film "Wedding Crashers" and the television show "The Wire." In addition, they have worked on numerous concerts and corporate events in the Washington region.
Jamal Lee said he hopes Breasia will develop a lasting relationship with the city of Laurel through the Youth Music Showcase and future endeavors.
"Laurel's doing a lot of great things right now," he said. "We hope to continue to grow right here in this central location."
Sixteen-year-old Tabyah "TJ" Lynch exemplifies Jamal Lee's vision. Lynch lives in Northern Virginia, but he saw a flier for the Laurel Youth Music Showcase and traveled to Laurel for the opportunity to perform in public.
"Singing is my passion," Lynch said. "I'll sing any time, anywhere."
On the Burton Memorial Stage, Lynch leaned into his microphone as he performed a soulful rendition of "Diamonds" by Rihanna.
"They told me to come back next Thursday, every Thursday," he said. "I'll do it."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun