It's fireworks in Boston for Katie Ann Mayhew
In a simple, long white dress, with an unassuming air, a shy smile, and a voice as big as Symphony Hall, Katie Ann Mayhew, 16, of West Tisbury won the first-ever Boston Pops High School Sing-Off competition Tuesday night. With her impeccable performance of "Being Alive" from "Company" by Stephen Sondheim, the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School sophomore prevailed over an initial field of more than 200 contestants from across the state. She will sing with the Pops orchestra at its annual July Fourth celebration on the Boston Esplanade topped off by its legendary fireworks display, and at a festive preview concert July 3, also on the Esplanade.
"It kind of defines big break," said conductor Keith Lockhart, as he introduced performances by the three finalists at a packed Symphony Hall. "The winner will sing before a crowd of 500,000, not counting the millions watching on television."
Mr. Lockhart said that the Sing-Off was created "to shine a spotlight on outstanding, talented, young people across the state of Massachusetts," and the parents and teachers who support their work, and that the level of talent had been outstanding.
The competition began in May, when judges chose 22 out of some 250 entries for the first elimination round, based on audition DVDs. After performing at Symphony Hall with Pops pianist Peter Mansfield, six of them went on to sing with the full orchestra two weeks ago. Then, the three finalists were selected to sing at Tuesday night's concert. Their performances took place before intermission, following a musical tribute to the late conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein. Mr. Lockhart prepared to announce the winners as the audience returned to their seats, praising the outstanding talent and hard work of all the contestants. But, he said, although all the students were highly qualified, there was only one winner, by unanimous choice of the judges.
"From Martha's Vineyard," began Mr. Lockhart slowly, sending some three dozen Islanders scattered around the hall leaping to their feet and cheering as he announced Katie Ann's name. As Katie Ann emerged from backstage to receive a congratulatory hug from Mr. Lockhart, the rest of the audience joined in the long ovation.
Photo courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra
For the Vineyarders who made the trip to Symphony Hall for this final competition, it was a moment to savor. Most had known Katie Ann since she was born and watched her grow into an accomplished singer through years of school and community performances.
"This is a high point in my life, one of the best memories I'll ever have," said Shirley Mayhew of West Tisbury, Katie Ann's grandmother. "I told her from the beginning she was going to win. I tried to be objective, but she was the best."
"It's been a long time since I got goose bumps," said Merrily Fenner of Chilmark, a singer herself and family friend. She said she had always been awed by the power in Katie Ann's voice. "When that power house kicks in with her, you know it's real."
Linda Berg of Vineyard Haven, Katie Ann's voice teacher for eight years, could not make it to the show, but she was confident in her student after seeing earlier competitions.
"When she strode onto the stage, I just burst into tears, I was dazzled by her," said Ms. Berg. "The girl can sing anything. I couldn't believe it when I first heard her years ago. I couldn't believe a child that age and size could have such a voice. I knew she was going to be a singer."
Joan Rice of West Tisbury also remembered Katie Ann as a musical little girl with a beautiful voice, singing all the way on a family trip to see "Lion King."
"I think this was always going to be," she said.
After the concert, friends and family gathered at a quiet cafe to celebrate. Katie Ann, now looking like any teenager in a flowered sundress and sandals, sat among several high school friends, as they devoured desserts and sipped Shirley Temples.
Among them was regional high school sophomore Tessa Dreeben, who is in Minnesingers with Katie Ann. Tessa said that despite her newfound celebrity, her long-time friend is very much the same as ever. "But she's coming into herself and has gotten the opportunity to explore her potential. That's a really good change," said Tessa.
"I wanted to win, but I felt like I'd also be fine if I didn't - I thought that whoever won deserved to win," said Katie Ann, clearly enjoying the chance to relax with friends after the tense and hectic weeks of competition. "I'm kind of sad because I've never missed the Fourth of July on Martha's Vineyard, but this is a pretty good excuse."
Media attention has become commonplace for Katie Ann. She and the other finalists have been interviewed by WBZ-TV, WBUR, the Boston Herald, WGBH-TV, NECN, and other news outlets. Many Islanders learned about Katie Ann's victory on television only moments after the performance ended.
Katie Ann faced stiff competition from finalists Samara Oster of Milton Academy, who delivered an expertly emotional rendition of "Your Daddy's Son" from "Ragtime," and a quintet of singers from Braintree and North Quincy High Schools, whose moving performance of "One Day More" from "Les Miserables" brought the audience to its feet. They were Adam Randall, Meghan and Michael Ryan, and Brianna and Kirsten Shetler.
Judges, along with Mr. Lockhart, were Joyce Kulhawik, former WBZ-TV arts and entertainment reporter; talent manager Michael Mushalla; and Tony Woodcock, president of the New England Conservatory. Fidelity Investments sponsored the Sing-Off.