MCCC Music Student Is Winner of "Searching for the Stars" at MCCC's James Kerney Campus


In an exhilarating display of talent ranging from singing to rapping to dancing, nine finalists competed in front of judges, cameras and a live audience in the finale of Mercer County Community College's first-ever "Searching for the Stars" talent competition. At the conclusion of the 90-minute show, which was hosted by Mercer's James Kerney Campus in downtown Trenton on March 14, singer/song writer Kelly Carvin, of Yardville, took home the grand prize - an invitation to perform at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem later this spring. Carvin is a first-year MCCC student who is studying music. Two Trenton performers, singer John Meadows and rapper Randy Kelly, were also invited to make an Apollo appearance.

The finale followed two previous nights of competition, starting with 23 contestants on Feb. 29 that were trimmed to 15 on March 7. Vanessa Brown Rogers, a special guest judge who is coordinating producer for the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night, likened Carvin's performance of her original song "Keep On" to a combination of Joan Armatrading, Joni Mitchell and Joss Stone. With hugs and congratulations all around, Carvin took the mic and said, "I am so blessed to be standing here. I will take full advantage of this opportunity." In addition to a potentially career-making appearance at the Apollo, Carvin will receive a limo ride to the theater and dinner at Harlem's Sylvia's Restaurant, the "Queen of Soul Food."

Kicking off the lively evening was MC Post Midnight, who prepped the enthusiastic crowd with an "Are you ready? Let me hear you make some noise," before launching into animated introductions of each performer. In addition to Carvin, Meadows and Kelly, the finalists included singers Dechantel Goodman of Trenton, Jamal Taylor of Clarksburg, and James Arlowe of Freehold; the rap duo of Terrell "Rave" Powell and Kwame "Swaggz" Picou; and dancers Victor Ruiz of East Windsor and James Lockhart of Trenton.

The panel of judges for the finale featured MCCC faculty and staff who specialize in communications and theater: Monique Simón and Kathy Paluscio, members of MCCC's communications faculty; M. Kitty Getlik, artistic director of Kelsey Theatre; and Terrence Carter, JKC student activities adviser/counselor. Participating as judges on previous evenings were English faculty member Dr. Donna Richardson-Hall and Theatre Program Coordinator Jody Person, who conceived and produced the "Searching for the Stars" event. Each judge offered constructive critiques to help contestants further develop their performance skills.

Singer, songwriter and winner Kelly Carvin
with MC Post Midnight.

From left, finalists John Meadows, Kwame Picou, Terrell
Powell, Jamal Taylor, Randy Kelly, Dechantel Goodman, James Lockhart, Kelly Carvin and Victor Ruiz with MC
Post Midnight. Not pictured: James Arlowe.

Judges and staff who supported the event included, from left, the Apollo Theater's Vanessa Rogers, MCCC Theatre Prog. Coord. Jody Person, VP Beverly Richardson, faculty member Kathy Paluscio, MCCC President Pat Donohue, faculty member Monique Simon, Kelsey Theatre Artistic Director Kitty Getlik and JKC Advisor Terrance Carter.

Adding a high tech sizzle to the event were Mercer's Entertainment Technology students, who created lighting and sound under the direction of faculty member Bob Terrano. MCCC's Television students, under the direction of instructor Steve Voorhees, filmed the show and interviewed contestants for Mercer's MCTV news show, which is aired on the college's cable channel 26.

Commented Jody Person, "Searching for the Stars is a fantastically exciting venue for students and community members to showcase their talents, but it's also a tool for learning. Mercer's Arts and Communications faculty members have devoted their academic and professional lives to the performing and fine arts. Our aim is to serve students and community members. Supplementing what our students are learning in the classroom, Searching for the Stars has been an amazing opportunity for this learning to take place at an actual community event."

"The students did a great job operating the lighting and sound," added Diane Campbell, executive dean for Student Affairs. "Everyone worked together beautifully and there was a lot of learning going on among our students."

"Mercer is doing so much for the community by reaching out in this way," said MCCC student Zadewine Kemah, a second-year Communication major who attended the finale. "When people have something positive like this to do, it helps keep them away from negativity activity. Mercer wants all of its students to succeed. The performers were excellent."

Reflecting on her judging experience, Dr. Richardson-Hall applauded the college for its efforts. "My husband and I felt a sense of pride in the amazing politeness of the audience, the professionalism of the MC, the high-tech sound and lighting, and the overall ambiance," she said. "I have a feeling that this event is just the first of many to come."

MC Post Midnight concurred. "The energy was electrifying," he said. "All who performed had heart and drive. For them, it was not the death of a dream but only the beginning. It was an honor and a pleasure to be here."

For more "Searching for the Stars" photos, click here.

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