Each of the six times Christina Thompson took to the stage at Bladensburg's Crossroads nightclub, she sang her heart out. But, try as she might, first place and the $100 prize in the club's Apollo-style talent showcase eluded her.
"A couple of Tuesdays I was really close, but somebody else won," says the 28-year-old mother of three, who spends her days as an administrator for a pest control company. "They have a lot of good talent here."
Still, the fear and exhilaration she feels being the center of attention keep the Rockville resident coming back. "It's kind of like riding a roller coaster," she says. "It's fun. It's scary. But once you get done, you want to do it again."
Thompson does just that. Wearing blue jeans and an earth-toned vest on a recent Tuesday, she looks down from the stage she's come to know so well.
"This is a story about being in love with someone you feel less than, and you're getting tired of it," she says, gripping the microphone. Seated on a chair turned backward, Thompson belts out Jewel's hit "Foolish Games."
Thompson is among the dozens of musicians, poets and comedians who have tried their luck at the Crossroads Talent Showcases during the last 11 weeks. On Tuesday, previous first-place winners will compete for a $1,000 grand prize in the showcase's final competition.
Like Thompson, George Franklin Smallwood has high hopes for the competition. Music is "my sanity, it's my water, something that God has fed me with," the 53-year-old Hyattsville man says. "I can't explain it. It's my coffee, my steak . . . "
Smallwood's salt-and-pepper hair is trimmed short. Wearing red sunglasses and a black jogging suit, he pounds the keyboard and sings an original composition. Then his microphone falls out of its holder.
The audiences gasps, and one of the competitors rushes to the stage to set things right. Since Smallwood lost his sight 30 years ago in a fight over a gambling debt, he's gotten used to people fussing over him when minor accidents happen.
"It's all right. It's all right. I got it. I got it," Smallwood says. He flashes his dimpled smile and tells the audience, "I'll just switch it up on you."
He finishes his performance with a rousing rendition of Gloria Estefan's "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," sprinkling the chorus with shouts of "ba-bay."
Other hopefuls perform. Zenobia Carter, a 22-year-old medical assistant from Washington, croons Tamia's "You Put a Move on My Heart" a cappella. Karen Smith performs the spiritual "Give Us This Day." Smith, a 31-year-old Greenbelt resident and office manager, sings professionally with the gospel group Voices of Bashtin. Her powerful voice and tiny frame lead Lorna Newton, the WHUR radio personality emceeing the show, to exclaim, "All that voice coming out of that little body!"
Bobby Hall, 30, and Ronald Young, 27, who both won first place in previous weeks, also return to the stage.
Now it's time to pick the winners. Newton gathers the contestants at the front of the stage. Newton announces each name, and the audience members cheer for their favorites. The contestant who draws the loudest applause wins.
"The winner is Christina," Newton announces.
Half a dozen people mob Thompson to congratulate her. She's a winner--at least until the next round.
Contestants compete for $1,000 at the final Crossroads Talent Showcase at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Crossroads nightclub, 4103 Baltimore Ave., Bladensburg. Admission is $10. Call 301-927-1056.