Area youth, new center shine in inaugural talent contest

Ravenwood student is night’s big winner

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The Williamson County Parks and Recreation Department on Saturday rolled out its first ever Academy Park Talent Show to showcase budding Williamson County performers ages 7 to 17. 

The event, inside the new performing arts center at 112 Everbright Ave., was conducted under the direction of Victoria Reed and featured 12 acts performing in front of three prominent local judges — Patrick Cassidy, Melissa Hurley Cassidy and Lisa Spencer — and a very full house. 

Patrick Cassidy and Melissa Hurley Cassidy are husband and wife. He is the new resident director of Studio Tenn and she has been an outstanding dancer, performer and chorographer for 25 years. The couple recently moved here from Los Angeles. 

As the son of actress Shirley Jones and actor Jack Cassidy, Patrick grew up amid the entertainment industry. He has an impressive career directing, acting and producing in Broadway theater as well as in major films and TV. 

Spencer, who has been a meteorologist at WSMV-Channel 4 for the past 20 years, also has a background in performing arts. 

After each performance, the judges questioned the contestants, more than half of whom are home-schooled. 

The ability of these young people was amazing, even their young ages were surprising. One of the finalists, Rooted in Grace, was a group of four siblings from Franklin. They are home-schooled and range in age from 7 to 14. The youngest, Annalise, played the violin angelically while one sister, Sophia, was on the harp and another, Madeleine, sang and played the piano (her own arraignment) as their brother, William, who has dreams of playing bagpipes, played the cello. 

Other finalists included a great metal band complete with high jumps, a promising young female comic, a talented actress and some more incredible musicians, including a young girl who effortlessly sang, on perfect pitch, a ballad from “Les Miserables” without any musical backing. 

While Freedom Middle School’s Taliyah Campbell, 13, beautifully sang the gospel song “Cycles,” Ravenwood High School’s Hanna Araya, 14, who passionately sang “So Will I” as she played her unplugged guitar, was judged the night’s winner. 

Upon being named the winner, Araya, who received many donated prizes and a very lovely glass star award, was mobbed on stage by fellow contestants and members of her large family.

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