Philly teen Nathanael Barlow wins gold at Amateur Night at the Apollo

The 16-year-old’s rendition of “For All We Know” by Donny Hathaway earned him the competition’s top prize.

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Nathanel Barlow on stage

Nathanael Barlow performs at 89th annual Apollo Young Star Competition (Eric Nixon/WHYY)

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A bus load of friends and family drove up to New York City’s Apollo Theater to cheer on Philadelphia teen Nathanael Barlow, a contestant at the recently concluded “Child Star of Tomorrow” competition at the 89th Amateur Night at the Apollo in late November.

Among his supporters were members of the congregation from New Covenant Church of Philadelphia, where the 16-year-old performs as part of the gospel choir.

Nathanel Barlow on stage
Nathanael walks on stage for the performance. (Eric Nixon/WHYY)

Barlow did not disappoint.

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He enthralled the audience with his rendition of “For All We Know” by Donny Hathaway, and brought home the top prize: a $5,000 check.

The results of the final competition were determined by the crowd’s response via Apollo’s “audience applause meter,” which is used to quantify who is the victor amongst the competitors by who received the loudest cheer. Barlow had a single-point lead over his closest competitor.

“When Nathanael was announced the winner of the Apollo, as his father, I was just so overjoyed and excited because here’s a 16-year-old kid that has found a significant place in space … through the use of his God-given talent,” Omar Barlow, Nathanael’s father, said.

To get to the finals, Barlow had to win three semi-final rounds held throughout the year. Previous winners from Philadelphia include Cheyenne Merritt in 2015 and Cam Anthony in 2018.

“I’ve been very vocal about the gift I see in Nathanael since I met him,” said Greginald Spencer, a New York-based artist and the “Set It Off Man” for the event. “His mother can attest. He has something very special.”

Nathanel Barlow's family
The Barlow family and supporters arrive in New York for the Apollo Finale (Eric Nixon/WHYY)

The Apollo has hosted Amateur Night since 1934. The competition plays a  major role in cultivating artists and showcasing emerging genres. Historically, Amateur Nights have always attracted young artists of color.

“I’m really moving step by step, not rushing my journey or going at an unnecessary speed,” Barlow said after the win.

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He said he plans to continue to work hard and nourish his passion for the arts.

“All great achievements take time and nothing will work unless you do,” Barlow said, quoting Maya Angelou, one of his inspirations.

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