72 teenagers across the country got their shot in the spotlight at the coveted National High School Musical Theater Awards, also known as the Jimmy Awards. It was a reminder of all the musical theater we missed in the last year and a half and the exceptional talent matriculating in high schools everywhere.
It was a clean sweep for North Carolina. Taking home the top prizes of Best Performance by an Actor and Actress along with a $25,000 scholarship are 18-year-old seniors Bryson Battle of Charlotte, and Elena Holder of Durham, respectively.
Both winners stood out with comedic chops during their solos in the character group medleys. Battle sang “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” from Guys and Dolls and Holder sang “Screw Loose” from Cry Baby. After the judges narrowed it down to the top eight finalists, Battle sang “Heaven on Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar. “It was a great challenge, I love the message and it really speaks to being able to speak up and use your voice,” he said in a recorded video message prior to his solo. Holder performed “Last Midnight” from Into the Woods after falling in love with the character of The Witch from seeing a friend’s high school performance.
Over the years, the Jimmy Awards has catapulted the careers of so many rising Broadway stars including The Prom’sSofia Deler, Jagged Little Pill’s Antonio Cipriano, Mean Girls’ Renee Rapp and Kyle Selig, Hadestown’s Eva Noblezada, Almost Famous’ Casey Likes and Dear Evan Hansen’s Andrew Barth Feldman.
This year, the nominees participated in ten days of online coaching from some of the biggest names on Broadway, and all performed in a pre-taped virtual showcase hosted by Corbin Bleu (Kiss Me, Kate). The opening musical medley mashup of show tunes paid tribute to the promise that lies ahead for this group of talented young artists. After fifteen months of self-isolation, remote learning, and canceled high school musicals, the smiles on the nominees’ faces emanated from the screen.
Usually, they fly to New York City for a week of classes followed by a live show held at the Minskoff Theatre. For many, it’s their first time on a Broadway stage, and for some, the first time on a plane. The Jimmy Awards are named after the late producer James M. Nederlander and produced by The Broadway League; which has been the catalyst for more than $4 million in educational scholarships.
Broadway Direct spoke with the two top prize winners, Bryson Battle and Elena Holder, moments after they found out they won.
What was your reaction to finding out you won tonight?
Bryson Battle:I was speechless. I didn’t have any words to say. I was just sitting there like this (he covers his mouth with his hands) for like 10 minutes and everyone was screaming around me. It was an out-of-body experience.
Elena Holder: This is insane. It feels odd getting to this point after so long. I am so grateful.
Bryson Battle: I just remember two years ago, I made a playlist of all the Jimmy Awards solos, because that’s my favorite part. I loved watching the solos. I wanted to be able to add myself to this playlist at some point. Getting to do that was just such a fulfilling experience. Having the largest support system I could ever ask for is a fulfilling feeling.
What has this entire process been like?
Elena Holder: As different as it was, I was surprised we made so many amazing connections. I feel like I learned just as much from how it was this year, as I probably would have learned in New York. It was such an enriching experience.
Bryson Battle: I agree wholeheartedly. I think even though we were all in different places, we still felt very much so connected. Even though this isn’t the first option that we wanted to choose, I feel like it was very accessible for everyone.
What is one thing you took away from the ten-day workshop?
Elena Holder: It’s hard to narrow it down to one thing. Rob McClure gave this incredible talkback. He taught us so many valuable lessons, like if you stick to it, you will find your way into this beautiful world of storytelling. It was the most inspiring thing.
Bryson Battle: For me personally, my song coach, Janet Decal, talked to us about how [sometimes actors] have this negative perception of casting directors that they want you to fail. In actuality, they want you to be the solution to their problems. They want you to be the person that’s going to save the show. That change in perception and perspective just gave me such a more optimistic look at attacking this career field.
Were there any obstacles for you to get here?
Bryson Battle: I feel like there were fewer obstacles. With COVID, my school didn’t have to do a show. My regional program was strictly audition-based. So I just had to sing. Then, with the Jimmys being at home, that was even more accommodating. So, if I had to pick the biggest challenge, I would say sustainability — trying to give 110% each day.
Elena Holder: As odd as this Jimmys experience was, I think a lot of the obstacles were kind of eliminated by it being virtual. But one of the biggest obstacles that apply to all competitions and every Jimmy Awards is vocal health.
When did you start singing?
Elena Holder: When I was nine.
Bryson Battle: I have been singing for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing. I didn’t get into theater until my freshman year of high school.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
Bryson Battle: Alex Newell is one of my biggest inspirations because I feel like he’s someone who very much is known for breaking the mold. And that’s something that I really, really want to do. I want to be able to tell my story not based on my gender or my race, but being able to bring what I have to a character.
Elena Holder: When I was younger, I was a really big fan of The Sound of Music and Julie Andrews is amazing and incredible. She definitely inspired me to perform.
What are your plans for next year?
Bryson Battle: I will be attending the Boston Conservatory of Berkeley for musical theater.
Elena Holder: I’ll be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study vocal performance and psychology.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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