Flint, MI–Five Genesee County youths and young adults will soon be putting it all on the line inside Flint’s Capitol Theatre.

Each performer will present the audience with an original work of music or poetry for a chance at winning thousands of dollars and mentorship from a well-established producer. 

A joint venture between Los Angeles-based visual effects studio, Luma, and Flint’s own Shop Floor Theatre Company, Signal Boost is a first-of-its-kind talent competition designed specifically to encourage young, local talent to tackle self-expression through original songs, raps or spoken word poems.

Signal Boost will take place at the Capitol Theatre in Downtown Flint on Thursday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available for free on The Whiting’s website.

Kate Glantz, head of Legacy, Luma’s outreach branch, explained how the audition process was overseen by a panel of impartial judges made up of both Flint locals and industry experts based out of cities like Los Angeles and New York–the “Review Crew,” Glantz calls them.

“It was a really nice blend of local and national people and they reviewed every application against a rubric. Things we were looking for specifically was the impact of the message, the structure of the piece and then the talent,” Glantz said. 

Glantz added the top five finalists, who will all be competing for first, second, and third place prizes, make up a mix of genres and cover a variety of different topics in their pieces. 

The five finalists were also given time and resources to hone in on their pieces and their performances. The finalists were treated to a two-day-long workshop where they got to spend time in the recording studio and receive advice from local legends like Ira “Bootleg” Dorsey from The Dayton Family and Mama Sol, who will also be performing the night of the concert. 

“We hosted a workshop for the five finalists … they (the finalists) were given lots of practical advice about the industry but also had their songs listened to and received feedback. The next day they rode to the Village Recording studio where they met Helluva who helped them all produce their tracks,” Glantz said.

The finalists, made up of three Flint residents and one each from Swartz Creek and Mt. Morris, are all feeling nervous but confident about their future performance. 

Jo Ikigai, 23, of Flint, poses for a photo at Cafe Rhema in downtown Flint, Mich. on Dec. 1, 2021. Ikigai is one of the Signal Boost competition’s final contestants. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Jo Ikigai, a 23-year-old Flint resident who has spent years behind the microphone sharing their spoken word poems and songs with the community, first came across the Signal Boost competition on social media. 

After spending a few days wondering if they should apply, a Signal Boost organizer reached out to Jo, having heard about their work. 

“I went on ahead and signed up to audition. By the time I decided to apply, the first of two in-person audition dates had passed,” Ikigai said. 

Determined to audition in person, where they thought they’d have their best shot, Jo tried signing up for a time slot before realizing they were all filled.

“It was kind of discouraging. I thought ‘I guess I’ll just make a video,” even though I knew I’d make a better impression and do better if I could just get in front of somebody … I decided I was just going to go in person anyways and if somebody didn’t show up I could ask to take their place,” Ikigai said. 

Just like they had hoped for, Ikigai arrived to audition and just in time to fill a slot no one else was there to claim.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, shout out to whoever didn’t show up. I got to go straight in there and audition,” Ikigai said. 

Coming from a background in stage acting, having previously worked in productions like the Flint Youth Theatre’s The Watsons go to Birmingham — 1963, Ikigai said it’s not being on stage they’re necessarily worried about. 

For their original piece, Ikigai will be performing a spoken word poem titled “Me Too,” which touches on Ikigai’s personal experiences with sexual assault, violence, and harassment. 

“I was just talking to somebody recently and neither of us knows a woman who hasn’t been assaulted or harassed. It’s a truly awful thing … Me Too just encompasses a lot of my experiences and feelings from some very dark times in my life. I really hope it encourages people to also share their truth and to speak up in ways that feel comfortable for them,” Ikagari said.

Jenna Clark, 17, poses for a photo outside of Blackstone’s Smokehouse in downtown Flint, Mich. on Dec. 2, 2021. Clark is a finalist for the Signal Boost competition. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Other contestants, like 17-year-old Swartz Creek resident Jenna Clark, will also be drawing from their personal experiences with sexual assault and its aftermath. 

“I went into this thinking I was never going to get in and that this was never happening. I was so certain of it. I was in Virginia with my family and I was on the phone with my best friend when all of a sudden, I see a text from Kate (Glantz) … then she called me and my heart dropped. Even after the call, I didn’t believe it was legit for like another week until we had our second meeting,” Clark said.

Clark will be performing a song she composed for the guitar titled “Haunted.” 

Having twice been the victim of sexual assault in 2021, Clark decided to write a song that would help put into words what she went through and continues to go through today. 

“One of the reasons I actually auditioned and performed this song was because when I was going through this situation, all I wanted was somebody to relate to. I mean, there are tons of people out there, so many of them who relate to my story but I never had a song that I could relate to personally and music was one of the only things that kept me going,” Clark said.

Though not entirely sure what she would do in the event of winning, Clark said the most important aspect of Signal Boost for her is putting out a song that could potentially bring them the kind of comfort she was looking for when she wrote it. 

Kameron Motley, 17, poses for a photo in Brush Alley in downtown Flint, Mich. on Dec. 1, 2021. Motley is one of the finalists for the Signal Boost competition. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Kameron Motley, a 17-year-old from Flint, knew when he first came across Signal Boost on social media, that he needed to apply. Having experience with public speaking, poetry and hip-hop, Motley decided to audition using a poem he had previously presented during the Flint Unity March. 

“The piece is more about overcoming adversity and being someone who is willing to stand for the community,” Motley said. 

For his Dec. 9 performance, Motley will be performing a different original piece which with the help of professional producers, he hopes will be just as impactful for the audience. 

“I have to give it to Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church for having me do speeches every year during the holidays. It helped me develop a voice and to not be nervous around crowds. Everything I did there helped me prepare for who I am now and that all really helped. 

Messiah Douglas, 21, stands in front of The Eberson in downtown Flint on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. Douglas will be performing an R&B-style song about his father, Anthony L. Smith who died last year. On his neck, Douglas has tattooed is father’s birth and death years along with his name. (Santiago Ochoa | Flint Beat)

Keeping in line with the theme of personal experiences, Messiah Douglas, a 21-year-old from Mt. Morris will be performing a song in the style of R&B about his father, Anthony, who died last year.

“The song came from my heart because I really miss my dad. It was hard for me to write the song but I already knew what I was feeling so I just had to put it on paper. It took me about a week to write the whole song. Even when I finished the song, it was still hard to sing it,” Douglass said.

Unlike his peers, Messiah’s experience with the world of music performance is scant. For him, just the opportunity to perform inside a venue like The Capitol is a prize.

“ I feel amazing getting to do this. I like my ideas and I’m confident in myself. Really I don’t care about the money. I want everyone to feel me, feel my talent. The biggest thing for me is just getting myself out there.” 

Bleau McCray-Morel, 21, sits at the West Side Diner in Flint, Mich. on Dec 1, 2021. The diner is one of McCray-Morel’s regular spots. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Bleau McCray-Morel, a Flint native, comes from a musical background. At 21 he has already played many of Flint’s smaller venues and in the process has come to know local musicians like Mama Sol.

He said he found himself submitting his audition just hours before the deadline. 

“Mama Soul told me to audition and I got home, signed in at the last minute, came together with an audition in a few minutes and cool, I was done. I was getting annoyed because there were a few more steps I needed to take and I felt like I had too much going on to really do this,” McCray-Morel said. 

McCray-Morel added that one the day he found out he had placed in the top five, he had been planning on recanting his audition.

“Right when I was about to tell Mama Sol I couldn’t do the competition she texted me telling me I was in and I was like, “’that would be my luck, I’m not surprised,’” McCray-Morel said. 

In just the two-day workshop, McCray-Morel said he already felt like a winner having had the opportunity to make new connections in the industry. Though he says he could use the money, to him, performing at The Capitol is more about the opportunity to show off his talent. 

“I just hope people feel something when I’m playing. I’m not trying to be corny but I just want people to like it.”

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...