SURREY – Those taking in the two championship performances Monday afternoon during the BC Junior Talent Search Finals could be forgiven for believing – truly believing – they were in the presence of seasoned pros at the top of their games.
First, Surrey’s Arianna Almeida, guitar in hand and calling upon all of her 11 years on the planet, won the preteen category by rampaging through "House of the Rising Sun" – a version so gritty, so downright aggressive, it would have done Eric Burdon proud.
Then, Jada McKenzie-Moore, 13, of Vancouver, showed what a voice capable of about a hundred octaves can do in a soaring, at times ethereal version of "Titanium" to walk away with the teen contest crown.
It’s not exaggeration to say both girls would have turned chairs on TV’s The Voice.
For Arianna, music is, apparently, everything. "It is my passion," said the enthusiastic Grade 5 student at Pacific Academy. She began singing at the age of five, spurred on by mom Evelyn and dad Valentino, the latter a veteran rock musician. But singing and playing guitar is just the tip of the iceberg: Arianna also plays sax, flute, violin and recorder.
She lists among her influences such diverse artists as Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Heart, and Evanescence, and sees a future, perhaps a decade from now when she’ll be all of 21, as a solo singer-songwriter.
And why "House of the Rising Sun?" "I wanted to sing a song that I could put my full effort into. I wanted to show my soul."
Astonishingly, comparative old-timer Jada didn’t know which song she’d sing until the day before the competition, held at Cloverdale Rodeo & Country Fair.
"We watched American Idol and saw a contestant sing ‘Titanium,’" said Jada, a Grade 8 student at Eric Hamber Secondary. "I thought how it applied to Trinity (Jada’s friend and a bullying victim at school), so it seemed perfect."
One problem: she’d never even sung the song. That left just a single day for prep, memorization and rehearsal. Adding to the commotion, mom Jennifer had to source a backing track that offered enough space for her daughter’s secret weapon – a Mariah Carey-like octave capability and extended "whistle notes."
This was not Jada’s first shot in front of a crowd – not by a long shot. Indeed, the young chanteuse has appeared in musicals and competitions since she began singing in earnest at age eight, and is currently the official national anthem singer at Vancouver Stealth lacrosse games. So when mom finally did find the elusive backing track, her daughter merely reached into her bag of experience and went to work. The result was glorious.
When she left the stage, an overcome Trinity ran toward her. The two embraced as the crowd cheered. And this year’s Junior Talent Search had its fitting climax.
Last month, the ninth talent contest kicked off with two rounds of open auditions at Central City Shopping Centre, followed by semi-finals there last Thursday.