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Lots of talent on display at 2011 US Open Casting Call

June 21, 2011 05:17 PM
A contestant auditions at the 2011 US Open Casting Call.
The judges: Kimberley Locke, Josh Henderson and Tinsel Korey.
A contestant waits for her chance to audition.
By Erin Bruehl, USOpen.org
 
NEW YORK - When Aidan Flaherty was two years old, he suffered a stroke, which caused him to lose the ability to speak for several months.
 
Now 11, Flaherty, of Westport, Conn., still has some learning disabilities, which specifically make him an auditory learner, enabling him to memorize songs quickly. His mother Heather also introduced him to tennis a few years ago as therapy to help his visual tracking, which had been impaired in the stroke.
 
And on Tuesday, June 21, Flaherty was able to mesh those two abilities, as he was one of 167 children aged 12-and-under who sang "America the Beautiful" at Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater in New York City at the 2011 US Open Casting Call to audition for a chance to sing during a session of this year’s US Open.
 
"I enjoyed it a lot. It was really great," Flaherty, who sings in the Fairfield County Children’s Choir, said of his audition. "My mom downloaded ‘America the Beautiful’ on my iPod so I could practice it.
 
"I really like tennis," he added. "I like hitting balls, the hand-eye coordination and the focus it requires."
 
The contestants performed on the theater’s main stage in front of three celebrity judges, Tinsel Korey of "The Twilight Saga," Josh Henderson of "Desperate Housewives" and "90210" and Kimberley Locke from "American Idol" Season 2. Before taking the stage, the contestants could rub the famous Tree of Hope in the lobby for good luck, which worked for many of them.
 
"They were above my expectations," Henderson said. "We saw kids as young as five years old singing without missing lyrics and having great auditions. I am really impressed. A lot of them were good, and some of them were very good."
 
Virginia Tiernan, 12, of Dallas and her cousin Madeline McNichols, 11, of Milwaukee were so eager to audition that they were the first ones on line at 4:45 a.m.
 
Besides her vocal talents, Tiernan plays USTA Junior TeamTennis and loves to both play and watch tennis. She found the Casting Call online and told her cousin about it.
 
"I wanted to audition and hopefully get to sing at the US Open," Tiernan said. "I play tennis. It is a fun sport to play, to watch and to make friends. I thought this would be a great opportunity to come here and try out."
 
Others came from even farther away for the chance to sing at the US Open. Sara Cook, 12, along with her mother June and sister Mei Mei, 16, drove from their home in Kitty Hawk, N.C., to Utah two weeks ago for a bassoon audition and performance for Mei Mei and then this past Saturday drove through the night from Utah to New York, arriving Monday, so Sara could sing at Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater the next day.
 
"I was in the back seat of the car in my sleeping bag with my pillow," Sara said of the past few nights. "But it was worth it for this audition. This is what it is all about."
 
Making an early-morning day trip on the train from Pennsylvania were Sam Blakie, 12, and Rhymik Thompson, 12, who sing together in the Philadelphia Boys’ Choir. Blakie, whose mother is a USTA member, told Thompson he was heading to New York to try out, and his friend wanted to come along.
 
"I heard that if you were 12 and under you could audition, and the US Open is one of the biggest tennis tournaments," Blakie said of why he chose to try out.
 
"Sam told me he was going, and I said, ‘Wow, can I come to?’" Thompson said. "I learned a lot about it (Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater). My idol, Michael Jackson, performed here. I rubbed the Tree of Hope so many times for luck."
 
Frenie Acoba, 9, of Kings Park, N.Y., on the other hand, knows lots about Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater. Acoba, who was selected to perform at the US Open last year, came out to try again in hopes of making it for a second year in a row in the same place where she will perform on Amateur Night on July 13.
 
"It was a great experience. I just want to sing again because it was so great to sing at the US Open," she said. "When they said the audition would be here, I thought that was great because I was going to sing there (Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater) in a few weeks."
 
Nina Sophia Mojares, 12, of Freehold, N.J., is another former winner who was hoping to be selected for the second year in a row, and she thought her experience served her well. She has also performed on "America’s Got Talent" and sang the national anthem at New York Knicks games as a few of her other performances.
 
"It was a really fun experience, singing in Ashe Stadium and walking down the hallway and seeing all the tennis players," Mojares said. "Last year I was really nervous (to audition), but the second year you don’t really get as nervous."
 
Owen Doherty of Rumson, N.J., came to Tuesday’s audition as a veteran, having been selected to sing at the US Open the past four years. Now 12 and able to audition for the last time, he was hoping to make it five in a row, and his sister Mackenzie, 6, was hoping for her first selection.
 
"I like to be able to sing in the huge stadium, and I like to watch the tennis," he said. "I hope I get to do it again. (Mackenzie) wants to make it, too, because it is really fun to do."
 
Locke was very impressed with the children’s abilities and the fact that children as young as five and six years old were auditioning. She could see a lot of potential in many of them.
 
"You can tell the ones who are looking at you (as they sing) because being a performer, whether you are a dancer or a singer/songwriter, it is about connecting," she said. "The ones that can connect, it is magical. You wouldn’t think you could get goosebumps from 5, 6, 7 year olds, but you can."
 
A few contestants really stood out in the judges’ minds, but as a whole, they agreed picking the winners will be very tough.
 
"There are definitely a couple I think back to," Korey said. "I think the tough part is narrowing it down and making sure you made the right choice and also hoping it is not discouraging for them if they don’t get picked. Some kids are almost there, but if they come back next year, they might just nail it. There was just so much talent today."
 

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