Meet the winners in American Pops Orchestra’s ‘Voices of Tomorrow’ competition

Four NextGen finalists score cash prizes and a chance to sing with the APO.

“What a fantastic NextGen competition, the talent was exceptional! I’m happy to say that we had an unprecedented amount of participation, both in viewers and votes. We’re committed to promoting new talent and classic American music and all of you are helping to make that possible. Thank you for helping us not only keep everything going but helping us dream new dreams!”  —Luke Frazier, Founder and Maestro, American Pops Orchestra. 

1st Place Female: Alexa Joseph

Alexa Joseph. Photo courtesy of APO.
Alexa Joseph. Photo courtesy of APO.

1st Place Male: Zac Doss
Chip Hand Prize for Vocal Excellence

Zach Doss. Photo courtesy of APO.
Zach Doss. Photo courtesy of APO.

2nd Place Female: Rashonda Bentley

Rashonda Bentley. Photo courtesy of APO.
Rashonda Bentley. Photo courtesy of APO.

2nd Place Male: Brody Grant

Brody Grant. Photo courtesy of APO.
Brody Grant. Photo courtesy of APO.


“Right now we are all desperately seeking contact and connections,” said Luke Frazier, Founder and Maestro, American Pops Orchestra, in a recent phone conversation on a chilly, rainy morning. “Everyone is hurting right now.” But then our phone conversation lightened up, lifting into high positive energy, as the sun came out and the clouds disappeared. We had begun to chat about the APO’s third annual NextGen: The Voices of Tomorrow Virtual Vocal Competition.

The NextGen competition provides university undergraduate students majoring in voice and music with the opportunity to audition for and then compete for cash prizes, and winners are given the opportunity to perform with the APO. The NextGen completion also provides the students with mentoring and a chance to have fun together.

For Frazier the NextGen is an opportunity to “create new content and entertainment to enjoy” for audiences who are in their homes and have been for some weeks.

This year’s NextGen: The Voices of Tomorrow Virtual Vocal Competition has included vocalists from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region who were chosen to compete in Washington, DC. Originally the competition was to be live with the singers performing with the APO. But the on-site competition was canceled due to COVID-19.

Frazier and the APO transformed the scheduled live competition into a livestreamed event. Votes from a panel of judges and the virtual audience will choose the “best voice of tomorrow.”

The songs to be sung will be American popular songs written around 1970 and before. When asked why that date, Frazier indicated that when he has auditioned college students, they had little familiarly with the songs and music of Aretha Franklin or Joni Mitchell or James Taylor or Dolly Parton or Carole King, beyond their big hits. “They didn’t know who I was talking about. I wanted to introduce them to music they might not know.”

In working with the APO, the students would also gain experience interacting with an orchestra that they likely did not have before, but “they would be exposed to music they might not know in an individualized manner.”

Luke Frazier, Founder and Maestro, American Pops Orchestra. Photo courtesy of APO.

This year’s vocalists are from 14 different colleges and universities including American University, The Catholic University of America, Frostburg State University, George Mason University, Howard University, James Madison University, Liberty University, Marshall University, University of Mary Washington, Ohio University, Temple University, West Virginia University, and the College of William and Mary.

This competition will be judged by Broadway star Mauricio Martinez (On Your Feet!); Helen Hayes Award winner Nova Payton (Dreamgirls national tour); Charles McKay, Managing Director of the New York Festival of Song; and Robert Pullen, Executive Producer of Nouveau Productions

In the virtual semifinals 30 students each sang 32 bars. The top 10 finalists tonight will sing a longer piece from another song. Votes will then be tabulated.

Two winners, one male and one female, will each receive a cash prize of $500 and the opportunity to appear in a future APO concert. Two second-place winners will receive $250 apiece. On Sunday night, April 26, at 8 p.m., Luke Frazier will announce the winners live. The winbers will be called by phone to accept their awards.

As we ended our phone conversation, Frazier praised the student competitors and their fine voices, noting that they “will be graduating and then auditioning for top-level DC-area stages. They will become part of the theater community.”

So, here is a rare chance to hear new voices—just as a DC-area theater casting director might do in an open call for a new musical production.  Take it in. Virtually, of course.

Registration for the finals Saturday evening, 8 p.m., April 25, 2020, is free, but a donation to support the cost of the event and prize money for the winners is appreciated. To register go online.

VIDEO: Last year’s NextGen vocal competion


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