TUPELO • Jamara Myles strives for perfection every time she sings, but the recent Tupelo High School graduate admits there’s room for improvement.

Myles entered Singing With the King, an open talent contest for young singers, and came away with good advice on how to improve her talent. She also took first place in the high school division of the vocal competition.

Normally a live event, the second annual Singing With The King went online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty-one contestants posted YouTube videos of themselves singing, and a panel of three judges selected winners in the competition’s three divisions.

“It was fun and different,” Myles said.

Myles took first place in Division III (grades 9-12). Thomas Roper, a Tupelo Middle School student, won Division II (grades 7-8) and Anne Frances Atkinson, a student at Tupelo’s Lawhon Elementary School, won Division I (grades 3-6).

Singing With the King, presented by the Tupelo Elvis Fan Club, offers music/vocal scholarships to all youth who want to further their musical endeavors. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the legacy and music of Elvis Presley.

Singing With The King is held in conjunction with Dancing With The King, a dance event in Tupelo that also offers scholarships for people age 25 and under to participate. Dancing With The King has been rescheduled for Oct. 30-Nov. 1.

In keeping with the Elvis theme, the entrants submitted two audition videos of them singing an Elvis tune and a non-Elvis song of their choice. They also participated in Zoom workshops presented by the judges – all music professionals – on various aspects of music, including stage presence, songwriting, vocal self care and the music business.

“In this day and age, just having a nice voice isn’t enough,” said Charlise Latour, co-chair of Dancing and Singing With The King. “To be a music performer, you’ll have to do more than just sing. I know that sounds crazy this being a vocal competition, but if they don’t have the other aspects of being a good performer, a lot of times they’ll get overlooked even if they have a fabulous voice.

“In the music business workshop,” Latour added, “the presenter went into great detail about the different things that go into the music business. Even if you’re not a performer, there are lots of ways you can work in music.”

The contestants would have performed live in the final round of the competition, but the pandemic turned it into a virtual finale through updated video performances. The judges – opera singer Demi VanderWerff, theatre professor Lauren Carlton and Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Tricia Walker – not only picked the winners, but also critiqued each performance.

“Each of them received six written critiques from the judges that were quite in depth about what the judges liked about their performances or what they need to work on or improve,” Latour said.

Myles sang “In The Ghetto” by Elvis and “Intorno all’idol mio” from the Italian opera “Orontea” by composer Antonio Cesti.

“I got some really good feedback,” said Myles, who will enroll in Blue Mountain College as a music major. “All of them said I should have stood up when I sang so they could see my body language. They also said I did really good and I made the song my own, and I needed to work on my stage presence.”

Roper, who’s entering the eighth grade at TMS, sang one of Presley’s favorite gospel tunes, “How Great Thou Art,” and “Proud of Your Boy” from “Aladdin.” Roper said he benefitted from the workshops and was able to adapt to competing online.

“I would normally perform in front of the judges. It was a lot different from being face-to-face with the judges,” he said. “I would feel more comfortable doing it live than in a video. But with all of this going on now, I think sending in a video was better.”

Atkinson, who’s moving up to the sixth grade at Milam Elementary this fall, sang the classic Elvis hit “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and “Who Will Buy?” from the musical “Oliver!” Atkinson and Roper were vocal finalists in the inaugural Singing With The King last year.

“I learned a lot about the jobs in the music business and about stage presence,” Atkinson said. “In the stage presence workshop, I learned that you have to be natural and just go with your gut.”

Other finalists in each division include:

• Division III: Nicholas Brown, second; Connor Hildago third.

• Division II: Sharlee Shumpert, second; Mary Chapel Whitehead, third

• Division I: Eva Brooke Sweeney, second.

Latour said this year’s online workshops and competition could lead to a change in how Singing With the King is organized in the future, possibly as a part-live, part-virtual event.

“We want the competition to be live again,” she said, “but we don’t necessarily have to eliminate what we did this year. There were some good things that turned out really well.”


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