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UAB student one of 30 chosen from hundreds for national voice contest


By Shannon Thomason

A Florence, Alabama, student is a national semifinalist in The American Pops Orchestra “NextGen National: Finding the Voices of Tomorrow” competition.

Jalen Kirkman is among 30 singers chosen for the competition from hundreds of auditioners. He is a University of Alabama at Birmingham junior, pursuing his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater from the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Theatre. He is on track to graduate in spring 2025.

NextGen gives collegiate vocalists the opportunity to learn from industry professionals while competing for a chance to win scholarship money and paid performance opportunities with the American Pops Orchestra in New York. The APO brings American popular music to audiences and builds community by preserving, promoting and reimagining it. The APO presents live and virtual performances, educational initiatives, and collaborations to make the highest-quality art accessible to the broadest audiences. The orchestra often performs with such artists as Kristin Chenoweth from “Wicked,” and each year they host this vocal competition for young adults.

Kirkman heard about the competition and entered in late November. Competitors participate in NextGen completely free of charge. Applicants must submit a self-taped performance of a song strictly from before the 1970s, and he sent in a performance of himself singing in class.

“That part is really cool to me because it is a next generation vocal competition using older music, whether it be Golden Age or jazz or classical,” Kirkman said.

For the competition, Kirkman has performed the jazz piece “Guess Who I Saw Today.” The timeless classic has been sung by Nancy Wilson and Samara Joy, whose version inspired Kirkman.

“One of the big things I set for myself and would love to do in this competition is singing jazz throughout because it is something that I have always loved to do,” he said. “I don’t really get to sing jazz often just being in musical theater. If I can get as far as I can doing that, it would be awesome.”

At 3 p.m. EST Sunday, Jan. 7, the semifinals will be broadcast virtually. The group of 30 will compete for their chance to advance to the final round. Four judges, along with the audience, will choose 10 finalists to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to compete in the finals at Lincoln Center. Tickets are $10 and allow viewers to watch online and vote for their favorites.

The final will be at 2 p.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 11, in person in New York. Finalists will attend master classes and events and work with professional artists, then perform at Lincoln Center.

At UAB, Kirkman studies voice with Head of Musical Theatre Valerie Accetta and Emily Jaworski-Koriath, DMA, in the college’s Department of Music. For acting and performance, he studies with Department of Theatre professors Accetta, Dennis McClernonJack Cannon and Roy Lightner, who is artistic director at Red Mountain Theatre and with whom Kirkman also trained in dance. Kirkman also performs with the Department of Theatre’s student tour group, a company of students who annually travel to schools and community venues to present theater shows.