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Discovering the next Jackson 5, as the Apollo's "Amateur Night" hits the road

Wednesday, Jan 29 2003
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When the Apollo Theater opened 90 years ago in Harlem, its stage was intended for burlesque acts -- and its doors were closed to black people. This seems ludicrous to our generation, which grew up knowing the club as the signature venue for emerging African-American artists. Now, while much of the country associates the hall with the make-it-or-break-it late-night television program It's Showtime at the Apollo, it's still the untelevised showcase "Amateur Night" -- which since 1934 has been discovering stars including Ella Fitzgerald and the Jackson 5 -- that continues to premiere young talent weekly in the venue's hometown. If you can't get to NYC this year, you're in luck: For the first time, "Amateur Night" takes its show on the road. Next stop: Zellerbach Hall.

The range of talent on display for this one-night event was chosen through a rigorous audition process held in December. Of the 120 acts that tried out, only 14 made the cut. The selection of artistry is as diverse as it gets, including teenage spoken-word artist Yejide Najee-Ullah; nuevo break-dancing troupe Hound Dawg Truckers; vocalists and puppeteers Toya Willock and Alexis Johnson; and experimental percussionist Derique, the Electric Body Drummer.

One of these youngsters could be the next James Brown -- or not. The beauty of this high-pressure beast is that the audience gets to decide who's hot, and who's not. Cheering and jeering are an essential part of any "Amateur Night" gig, which makes the spectators as much a part of the show as those who strut their stuff on the unforgiving stage. If, after watching countless hours of American Idol, you think you've got what it takes to recognize talent, come on out. But come dressed to impress, and don't forget your attitude: You can take the Apollo out of Harlem, but you can't take Harlem out of the Apollo.

About The Author

Karen Macklin

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