Talent show at Finley Recreation nets few performers, a lot of heart

When he stepped into the auditorium, twelve year old Samir Rutledge didn’t intend to perform. He was really there to support his older brother, Dante, but in just a few minutes their roles changed.

The limited number of participants at the talent show at the Finley Recreation Center on the edge of East Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane gave Samir the idea to take the stage himself. Dante encouraged his little brother to go for it. So the two went backstage before anyone else to give Samir a chance to work on his dance routine while Dante guided him.

In front of a crowd of about 20, Samir later took to the stage and continued dancing when the music would unexpectedly cut off. Four others followed him at the talent show hosted by the Northwest Equal Partnership in Change Stakeholders Group on Friday night.

It was the first time the contest was held, and students from elementary, middle and high schools were invited to attend, said Nan Rhone, coordinator for the group.

The group promotes youth engagement, so they used the show as a way to have them interact in a positive way. Though the show was about the children’s talents, it was also about giving them support in a broader way.

“If we don’t encourage our children, the streets will,” said Corliss Wright, secretary for the stakeholders group.

Getrude Turner explained how it’s never too late to go back to school. She was 65 when she got her associate degree, and now she is working toward her bachelor’s. Turner said the cost of school shouldn’t stop them because funds are available.

Before the winners were announced, the three judges gave the contestants feedback on their performances. Ernestine Turner, 14, of Wissahickon Charter School, won compliments for her confidence and choice to sing without music.

Talent show judge Walter Marlin liked her performance but wanted her to sing louder next time, he said.

When the awards were presented, each performer was asked about his or her future goals.

Second-place winner Chyna Brown, 12, who did gymnastics, said she wanted to study math in college. She would also like to be part of the Olympic team and open a hair salon one day.

Zaeni Rogers, the shy 4-year-old who needed a bit of encouragement from her family before she sang on the stage, won first place in her age group. She wants to be in kindergarten, she said.

The overall first-place winner was Dante Rutledge who is 15. He won $100 for his a cappella version of Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

With his black vest and gray button down shirt, he was someone that judge Yvonne Andrews thought looked like a star, which was good news for Dante who dreams of being an R&B singer. Recently, he tried out for “The X-Factor” in New Jersey, but he was not chosen.

Dante said he got nervous when he saw the large crowd he had to audition in front of for that show. He plans to take this year to improve himself. He decided to participate in the contest at Finley, so he could have more experience and be ready to meet his goal next time.

“I like to express myself,” he said. “I’ve always dreamt of this.”

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