"C'mon everybody, put your heads together for these wonderful people," masters of ceremonies Delores Handy and Melvin Lindsey kept telling an audience of about 1,500 parents, friends and patrons of youth Saturday night at the Metro Talent Search finals.
Put your hands together for Miss Persephane Roach, who belted out her "Believe in Him" song twice because the first time the microphone hadn't been turned on.
Put your hands together for Ladies D.C., the Triad Trio, T.N.T. Poppers and Hot Dance Inc. -- groups of young men and women between the ages of 15 and 29 who sang, swayed, trembled with devotion, popped, and slithered to music so loud that the flags painted over D.A.R. Constitution Hall's stage nearly began to wave with the vibrations.
Put your hands together for 28 -- count'em -- 28 acts, including numbers from Karen Youker's delicate ballet performance from "Giselle" to David Skrutski's solo on drums -- and drums only -- called "Kicking Can." They were the cream of more than 1,500 applicants from the Washington area picked by the Metro Talent Search Committee for its annual competition, and devotion kept the audience from overdosing on the 4 1/2-hour program.
John LeSane is 28 years old and wants nothing less than "to be one of the world's greatest opera singers, maybe sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York." For now, LeSane sings at the 19th Street Baptist Church in Washington. He is tall, slender, dignified and devoted to his family. "Please mention my parents," he said. "Their names are Artis and Susie."
He is fifth in a family of 10 children from Chadbourn, N.C. Like many of the finalists, he began singing in church, concentrating on religious music until college. He made the transition from gospel to opera at the Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, where one of his teachers recognized his talent and taught him Italian songs. "I loved the music and began doing some research." Now his favorite composer is Puccini. "To me his music is emotionally moving."
After the competition, as he held his trophy for second place in the Vocal Soloist, Classical category, he was more subdued, but undaunted. "It's a steppingstone," he said, smiling.
"I still want to be one of the world's greatest opera singers."
To say the audience was merely responsive would be a considerable understatement. There was steady, lively conversation between the masters of ceremonies and the audience, and the audience and the performers on stage, throughout the show.
"Are you ready for more talent?" the amcees asked. "Are they rough? Are they bad?"
"Yeah!" screamed the audience. "Sing it! Do it! Strut your stuff!"
"Diana Ross, look out tonight," commented one excited man when Yvette Carson sang "My Funny Valentine" in a red ruffled dress, shaking her head so hard the red flower fell out.
"C'mon, Tony!" shouted a devoted girlfriend as she jumped up out of her seat, waving to her favorite member of Alex, the all-male vocal group reminiscent of The Temptations.
Many people danced as well as they could in their seats, before actually standing up, clapping and swaying to the music of East Force, which vaguely recalled moments of Jimi Hendrix. Later, during the drumming solos of Lawrence Bradley and David Skrutski, one little boy began to beat out his rhythm on the head of his companion.
"Will the owner of a heart-shaped, Love-A-Libra key chain left in the ladies room please come and claim it," announced the emcee. "I have it here." l
"What are you doing with it?" someone yelled.
Charmain Robinson, 18, has been acting since she was 8. "I'm originally from Kingston, Jamaica, but we moved here when I was 6 because my parents thought we'd have better opportunities," she said. "My mother used to always perform when she was younger in school there, and I think I get my talent from her . . . Yes, I definitely think I'm talented. I think I was born to act."
Robinson was composed, perfectly made up and talked like a professional but sounded very young, very determined, very idealistic, "I know the market for black actresses isn't very good," she said. "But I'd rather enjoy what I'm doing than make a lot of money."
Station break: About halfway through the program, the Talent Search Dancers showed their appreciation by twirling on stage with sandwich signs bearing the names of their sponsors: the D.C. Recreation Department, the Mobil Oil Foundation Inc., D.C. City Councilman William R. Spaulding, the Catholic University of America and the public relations firm of Ofield Dukes and Associates. And the sponsors likewise expressed their appreciation of the talent during a wine and cheese reception following the competition. "It's so fresh and kind of inspirational," said Paul Petrus, general manager of government relations for Mobil. "It's a showcase for the younger generation of Washington," Petrus said, adding that he will recommend that next year the competition be expanded.
The Rev. Allen Bridges of Lynchburg, Va., his wife Elsie, their son Tim and a neighbor came to watch Vincent Bridges play in Mellow Magic, which won first place in the instrumental group category.
"No, it doesn't really matter to us whether he wins the grand prize," Bridges said before the competition began. "It's the sense of achievement that he's reached this point and the fact that he's channeled his energy in a positive way. Winning is not always the ultimate goal."
"I brought his motercycle from him," said Tim, explaining how he helped his brother, "so he'd have the money to buy the electric piano he needed for the band."
"Oh, is that how he got it?" their mother asked.
"Oh, oh," said Tim.
"Well," the mother continued, "I loaned by basement so they could rehearse their noise."
"That's not noise," said the neighbor, "that's music."
Where does Vincent get his talent from?
"Me!" they all said.
The winner: Chester R. Woodard turned into an overnight sensation with his act, "The Pop-A-Long Kid." Dressed in a black and white satin Western outfit, he danced to the song "They Call Me the Pop-A-Long-Kid" in front of four dummy cowboys seated in a cardboard Pop-A-Long Saloon. Popping is a fashionable, acrobatic dance similar to the Robot of several years ago.
The 16-year-old popper sent people popping into the aisles. Afterward, seated on the shoulders of his friends and holding his trophy high above his cowboy hat, Woodard was overwhelmed by young ladies.
"Hey Chester, can I pop with you?"
"To Sherrie," he wrote in one of many programs handed to him for an autograph. "I told you I would win. Signed, The Pop-A-Long-Kid."