Harlem is filled with so many wonderful historic New York sites, and I am lucky enough to live just a short 10 minute walk from the famed Apollo Theater located on 125th Street. I have passed the Apollo Theater tons of times, and each time saying to myself, “Amateur Night at the Apollo would be so much fun!” Well, we all get busy in our days, time passes, and unfortunately we sometimes take the wonderful gems that are in our neighborhood for granted. So, when some of my out of town guests told me that one of the top things they wanted to see in NYC was a show at the Apollo Theater, I knew it was finally time to make the time!
Since it’s opening in 1914, the Apollo Theater has been a shining star for the music renaissance in Harlem, showcasing artists like Billie Holiday, James Brown and Gladys Knight. In 1934, they premiered their legendary Amateur Night at the Apollo, with the winning contestant as no other than a 15 year old Ella Fitzgerald. Today, Amateur Night at the Apollo happens every Wednesday, and there’s no telling what new talent you might see in this beautiful neo-classical theater. On any given Wednesday night, there might be dancers, singers, comedians or spoken word artists performing their hearts out, competing for your applause and a chance to be the winning contestant of the evening!
With my ticket in hand, I walked into the packed theater, where I was welcomed with an electric energy that filled the entire space. There was live music from the Apollo Theater Amateur Night Band, our host was pumping up the audience with call and response songs, we were up out of our seats dancing and the party at Amateur Night was in full swing!
Our host then told us how the night was going to go: Starting with the kids division and moving into adults. The winner of the evening would get a cash prize and also go on to compete in the finals with a chance to win $10,000! If we loved what we saw on stage, we should clap and scream at the top of our lungs, but if we didn’t like what we saw, then we should boo as loud as we could. If the “boos” were louder than the applause, the lights would go out on stage and the performer would be kicked off. As a performer myself, I thought “that’s sounds horrific,” but I quickly found out that it was all part of the fun and uncertainty here at Amateur Night; and the power of the “boo” is something that the audience enthusiastically embraces. We watched performer after performer doing their best to try and get in the audience’s good graces. Some were extremely successful and others had the harsh fate of not even making it to the end of their performance with the “boos” from the audience ringing out in the theater. You never know what the next act will bring and whether you love it or your hate it, audience participation is a must!
After a short intermission, which included an awesome dance party, we were back and ready to get to the final contestants of the evening. I yelled, screamed and clapped as loud as I could for my favorite performer, and they won! Victory! As I collected my things and made my way out of the theater, I glimpsed at the famous names that are engraved in the pavement right in front of the entrance; names like Patti Labelle, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson and Lauryn Hill. “How lucky I am,” I thought, “to be able to live in a neighborhood that is so rich in history and culture.” This is something that the Apollo Theater celebrates every Wednesday night, with hopeful new talent trying to make their mark in New York City.
Come experience the fun and excitement of Amateur Night at the Apollo in Harlem, and who knows; you might even see the next Aretha Franklin!