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DC-CAP Talent Show Wows Crowd

4/3/2013, 10 a.m.

For a magical couple of hours, young people from area high schools regaled an enthusiastic, appreciative audience at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Northwest.

The 10 finalists - who sang, danced and played musical instruments at the DC-CAPital Stars Talent Competition - were competing for thousands of dollars in scholarship money from the DC College Access Program (DC-CAP). The celebrity judges included Grammy Award-winning vocalist Patti Labelle; opera legend and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves; singer and actress Jordin Sparks; and Amber Riley, of Glee fame. The judges' votes, plus those of the audience helped determine the eventual winners.

When the dust settled on the evening of March 26, 17-year-old Chabeli Arroyo, a senior at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts - by virtue of a flawless, controlled yet sassy rendition of Betty Jackson King's "Ride Up in de Chariot," - copped the first prize. She received a $10,000 DC-CAP college scholarship that will be applied to her first year of college.

Her performance left judges and the audience alike in awe.

"It was a wonderful mixture of head and chest and you kept your bravado," said Graves, 49. "It was a fantastic job. I think you're an angel, a treasure."

Sparks agreed, calling Chabeli's performance powerful and tasteful.

"I felt the Holy Ghost when you were singing," she said effusively. "It was such a different and unique juxtaposition. It messed me up. I felt straight joy when you hit the high note. It was beautiful - I felt lifted up."

Savannah Cranford, who danced to "Bitter Earth" by Dinah Washington, placed second and received a $6,000 scholarship, while Rocky Garcia who played "Loving You" by Minnie Ripperton on his saxophone placed third and earned a $4,000 scholarship. Both students are 17-year-old seniors at Duke Ellington in Northwest.

Master of Ceremonies and WJLA Anchor Leon Harris captured the mood and purpose of the evening during which the late Joe Albritton, one of the founders of DC-CAP, and educator Dave Domenici, co-founder of the Maya Angelou Public Charter Schools, a network of alternative schools in the District, were honored.

"This showcases the incredible talent of D.C. students who are performing in the hopes of winning big-time scholarship money," Harris said. "... DC-CAP ensures that every student has the opportunity to enroll in and finish college. It changes young people, it changes families, it changes the community, it changes this, the most important city in the world."

"You thought you came to see a show but you came to change the world."

The talent competition is in its fifth year and DC-CAP President and CEO Argelia Rodriguez said before the show that she was amazed by the talent of the young people and the slate of judges.

"We're psyched," she said during a recent interview. "This has been so successful we decided to do this every year. It's sort of a [mini-American] Idol. The kids audition from DCPS and charter schools."

A local panel of independent professional vocalists, dancers, musicians and educators from the metropolitan area, and more than 6,500 online votes helped select the top 10 finalists. Rodriguez said there were 41 semifinalists and the finalists were the Top 10 voted in on the DC-CAP Gala website. All finalists received college scholarships.