Katie Mayhew, Sing-Off finalist
Amidst cheers and shrieks from her delighted family and friends in the Symphony Hall audience, Katie Ann Mayhew of West Tisbury was named one of six semi-finalists out of 22 contenders in the first round of the Boston Pops High School Sing-Off Monday night. Like high-scoring American Idol vote getters, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School sophomore Katie Ann has only a brief time to savor her victory before she begins preparing for the next stage of competition, singing with the Boston Pops on June 17 or 18. Three finalists will be picked to compete at a Pops concert on July 1. The top high school singer will perform with the orchestra at its traditional Fourth of July shows July 3 and 4 on the Boston Esplanade. Needless to say, Katie Ann and her many supporters are keeping their fingers crossed and after making the first crucial cut, the chance of a big win does not seem all that impossible.
"It wasn't intimidating," said a tired but ecstatic Katie Ann Tuesday afternoon, talking on her mom's cell phone as they traveled home. "I thought everyone would be so professional. But everyone was extremely nice, relaxed, laid back, and made me feel comfortable. The kids were really nice, easy to talk to; they were just great kids."
Photos by Sarah Mayhew
The students arrived at Symphony Hall Monday for a packed afternoon. They met renowned Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, who congratulated them warmly. There was a press conference and rehearsals with pianist Peter Mansfield, the concert accompanist. As show time approached the group gathered in a downstairs room.
"It was really relaxed and I got to know the kids," said Katie Ann. "Everyone was supportive of everybody else."
The young men and women sat in a circle and encouraged each other. Katie Ann and another singer warmed up together. At last they were called upstairs to wait their turns. "We were oohing and aahing, saying 'here we are, backstage at Symphony Hall,'" Katie Ann recalled.
Then she was on stage, a slender Vineyard teenager with a sweet smile suddenly become a Broadway diva in a satiny black evening dress, her voice swelling with emotion in Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive."
"I still wasn't nervous," said Katie Ann. "It was just so awesome, I loved everything about it. I felt really good about my performance - I was so happy to be singing there!"
"What was amazing to me was how much fun she had," said her proud mother, Deborah Mayhew, yesterday. "It just gave me goose bumps, it was an unimaginable thrill."
"The audience loved her," Deborah e-mailed friends Tuesday. "We had so many strangers compliment her and tell us how phenomenal she was. One said Katie reminded her of a young Judy Garland."
The students waited backstage while the judges conferred. Finally Mr. Lockhart took the microphone to announce the winners, beginning each introduction with the name of the song performed. When Katie Ann heard "Being Alive" she knew.
"I was skipping on stage, it was so cool," she laughed.
The magical journey began only weeks ago when, just after Katie Ann got home from touring Austria with the Minnesingers, music teacher Jan Wightman reminded her about the all-Broadway Pops competition. It was a scramble to meet the May 9 audition DVD deadline. Music teacher Dan Murphy rehearsed with her and played piano on the DVD; Jim Novak, manager of the high school performing arts center, coached her. Family members, sound wizard Uncle Jack and photographer Aunt Sarah pitched in. Katie Ann got the DVD into overnight mail just in time.
"I thought it would be fun to try and see what happens," said Katie Ann. "I would have been okay if I didn't get in."
The more than 200 auditioners from high schools across the state were told that if they did not hear anything by 6 pm on Sunday, May 19 it would mean they did not make the first elimination. As Sunday afternoon ticked away, the Mayhews had pretty much given up hope. Katie Ann hopped into the bathtub while her mother and grandmother Shirley chatted.
Then the phone rang. Katie Ann accepted her invitation to the Symphony Hall Sing-Off wrapped in a towel.
"The boy who played Harry Potter got the role while he was in the tub too," confided Katie with her characteristic chuckle. "It's a good omen."
Katie Ann is a born performer, from the time she was a toddler singing and twirling in the living room at family gatherings. Soon it was Suzuki violin classes and voice lessons with Linda Berg at age eight. She sang solos in shows at the West Tisbury School, Children's Theatre, the high school, and at community events, performed in the South East District Music Festival junior division chorus and in DanceWorks programs. But Symphony Hall, Keith Lockhart, and a chance to sing with the Boston Pops...that was something else again.
She had some rehearsals with Mr. Murphy, bought a fancy new dress, and before she knew it the big day was here.
Even the thrill of singing in Symphony Hall and winning a place in the next competition did not top the pleasure Katie Ann took in the new friendships she made.
"The best part was just meeting everyone, all the great singers who are passionate like I am about what they're doing," said Katie Ann, thrilled to find other young people who are as excited by Broadway music as she is.
Deborah Mayhew said she has watched her daughter with awe for years as she has continued to grow in her performance ability. She had warm words for the high school arts department and the backing and assistance the staff has given Katie Ann. And she praised the Boston Pops too.
"This is a wonderful thing for the Pops to do to support the arts among youth and in the schools," said Ms. Mayhew. "And it's a fabulous opportunity for those kids who are participating."
Yesterday Katie Ann returned, like Cinderella after the ball, back to life as usual - high school classes, Minnesingers rehearsals, hanging out with friends, and preparing to make up the MCAS exam she missed by going to Boston. And is she a changed person?
"I feel pretty much exactly the same," she said with a giggle. "But I know I get to go sing in Symphony Hall again in two weeks, and this time it's going to be with the Pops, so that'll be awesome."