Flint, Mich—Jo Ikigai, a 23-year-old poet from Flint, clutched onto their novelty check with one hand as they gave their first-ever autograph with the other.

They stood on the edge of The Capitol Theatre’s stage where minutes before their poem had brought an audience of hundreds to tears as a small crowd gathered around them.

“This was honestly one of the best days of my life for sure,” they said.

The Signal Boost talent competition, which started with a performance from Flint musician Mama Sol quickly turned into a battle for the best as the five finalists gave it their all, each sharing an original composition that delved into their personal lives and struggles. The crowd was treated to a diverse set of performances that at one point had them dancing and at another, crying.

The panel of judges, Tia Scott, managing editor for Flintside; Helluva, a Detroit-based producer; Kiaira May, interim executive director of the Downtown Development Authority and Charles Winfrey, district two Genesee County commissioner, all provided advice to the young performers.

Jo Ikigai, 23, takes a long pause during their spoken word performance of their original poem title “Me Too”. Ikigai recited to an audience of hundreds inside The Capitol Theatre in downtown Flint during the Signal Boost competition on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. (Santiago Ochoa | Flint Beat)

Other guest performers like Detroit musician Charity and Flint rapper Jon Connor, also took to the stage, giving the five finalists a glimpse into the world of professional musicianship.

After the five performers had had their time on stage, it was time for the judges to convene while the audience voted for crowd favorite.

In the end Ikigai won the award for “audience favorite,” after performing their original spoken word poem, “Me Too.”

Ikigai brought the crowd to tears with a slow, somber and harshly punctuated account of their struggles with sexual assault. The crowd, still feeding off of the energy left by Charity’s performance quickly fell silent as Ikigai uttered the first and arguably most haunting words of their poem.

“When I told my sister what happened, she didn’t believe me,” Ikigai said.

Minutes later, after giving the first autograph of their career, Ikigai said they were overwhelmed by the success and idea of having their story heard by hundreds.

“I don’t even know what to call it. I am extremely grateful. I didn’t know for sure but I had a feeling people might resonate with what I had to say. But to have them hanging on to my every word, it was something else,” Ikigai said.

Following their announcement as the audience favorite, which came with a $1500 prize, the judges announced Bleau McCray-Morel would be the first-place winner for the night.

McCray-Morel wowed the audience with a technically complex and fast-paced John Mayer-esque song. He seemingly cemented his first-place win within the first minute of his song as his voiced reached into a falsetto that was quickly drowned out by deafening cheers coming from every direction in the audience.

“I was not expecting that,” said McCray-Morel following his $2,500 win.

“I’m just glad to be done. I’m going to be honest. I came here with the intention of having fun and I did just that, winning was just a plus,” he said. “I feel good about this. This is proof that I’m doing what I want to be doing and what I need to be doing. I’m on cloud nine.”

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...