Friday, May 10th, 2013
I’ve been to a ton of great talent shows over the years, but none have come close to impressing me as much as the Garden of Dreams Talent Show. The free event, put on by the Garden of Dreams Foundation and the Madison Square Garden Company each April, gives children struggling with unfortunate circumstances, such as illness and homelessness, the chance to forget about their problems by showing off their talents on the Radio City Music Hall stage.
I blogged about the show beforehand after chatting with celebrity host Tony Vincent and was expecting it to be chock full of great performers from his behind-the-scenes preview. What I wasn’t expecting was to be sitting in the audience with tears in my eyes after each act. To watch these genuinely talented kids express themselves and their hardships through their performances was an experience I can’t quite put into words.
Take 5-year-old Malik Naser, for example. Malik has to receive daily blood transfusions due to an illness and uses music as a distraction during the difficult routine – but you’d never know from the way he stood center stage sporting a fedora and bow tie as he sang Bruno Mars’ “Walking on the Moon.” Or there was 10-year-old Jeremy Dickinson whose love for singing got him through his neuroblastoma. He says he decided to perform “Put on a Happy Face” because he was always smiling, even through his toughest treatments. And if those two didn’t melt your heart enough, 6-year-old Julianna Pierre, a pediatric cancer patient at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, sweetly sang her favorite song from The Lion King, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
The 15 other acts ranged from a seriously talented break dancing group called “High Energy” to rapper Kasean Session, whose powerful lyrics are about witnessing his mother’s murder when he was 6 years old.
The amped up audience, awesome celeb hosts (New York Giants Super Bowl champ Victor Cruz, the Rockettes, and Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels from Run DMC – to name a few), and unlimited free popcorn made the whole night as fun as it was touching. I can’t wait to see what will come of these young role models and what the Garden of Dreams Talent Show has in store for next year.
Check out the Garden of Dreams video below (shown at the beginning of this year’s show) to see for yourself how incredible these kids truly are.
Photo: Performer Malik Naser with New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz
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Monday, April 15th, 2013
For all of you American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent fans out there, tomorrow night is the Garden of Dreams Foundation’s 2013 talent show – a talent competition with a very meaningful twist. The third annual show, put on by the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a non-profit charity that strives to positively impact the lives of young people facing difficult obstacles, and The Madison Square Garden Company, is an event where children and young adults ages 5-18 have the opportunity to forget about their problems and showcase their unique talents at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Unlike the sometimes discouraging tryouts we see on reality talent programs, the Garden of Dreams uses every step of the process to encourage the participants, beginning with auditions. In February, hundreds of kids performed their talents in front of a panel of celebrity judges (in past years they’ve included Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Cruz, The Strokes, and Seth Meyers – to name a few) who had the challenging job of narrowing down the talent to just 18 new acts. Broadway star Tony Vincent (American Idiot, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent) is a judge for the second year in a row and says even if the kids don’t make it into the show, just the opportunity for them to perform and express themselves in front of celebs who’ve made it in the industry, is instrumental in giving them hope that they too can be successful despite their challenges. “We all want to feel like we’re supported and that’s one of the cool things about that first initial level. No one leaves that stage without feeling validated,” says Tony. “We want to encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing and never stop.”
Once the performers are chosen, the judges work with them one-on-one to strengthen the acts as much as possible and share their wisdom. Often, however, it’s the judges who are most inspired. Tony was awed by several acts this year, especially 17-year-old Kasean Sessions who raps about his mom who was murdered in front of him when he was only 6 years old. “There is such a connection between this gentleman’s lyrics and what he’s going through as a human being at only age 17. I was blown away,” says Tony. “If I was a major record label I’d sign him and start developing him as an artist right away.”
Tony also mentioned another favorite: Zachary Wesz, a 16-year-old pianist who plays his instrument seamlessly despite only having eight fingers.
“These kids have so much courage and patience and drive regardless of the obstacles they have to deal with – whether it’s living in foster home after foster home or dealing with medical issues,” says Tony. “I’m excited to be part of the movement to get them to perform and live out their dreams.”
Check out Kasean and Zachary’s acts, along with 16 other new performances, tomorrow night (Tuesday, April 16). The show starts at 7pm on the Great Stage in Radio City Music Hall and is free and open to the public. I’ll see you there!
Photo: Model Damaris Lewis, Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels, Broadway star Tony Vincent, and the Rockettes at the mentor’s table for the 2013 Garden of Dreams Talent Show Rehearsals at Radio City Music Hall
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