By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff
If it weren’t for the missing voices of Simon, Paula and Randy, you would have thought it was an American Idol audition going on in Jersey City last week.
While the William Brennan Courthouse is no fancy Los Angeles studio, 28 local musicians, singers, and poets still showed up to compete for the chance to perform in front of thousands of PATH commuters at five Hudson County stations: Hoboken, Journal Square, Harrison, Newport and Exchange Place. The initiative, PATH Performs!, is the first in-transit performance program in the country based on live auditions beforehand.
“The caliber of the performances blew me away!” marveled PATH’s Linda Doss, who organized the auditions. “This gifted and talented group of performers far exceeded my expectations.”
Among the performers on the first of two nights of auditions was Geyby Aguilar, who started performing with open mics to help her confront her stage fright. A year and a half later, she is singing and playing guitar everywhere she can – from subways to bridal showers. At this year’s auditions, she took the judges’ breaths away with her rendition of Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket.”
“I’m proud of the feeling I get whenever I play in front of an audience, that I can make people smile with my music,” she said.
Auditions were judged by a 5-person panel from PATH and the Hudson County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs/Tourism Development. Because of the high quality of the performers, it is expected that most of them will be chosen to play, sing, dance or recite. They are likely to perform in the evenings a few nights a week, starting next month.
“The performers we saw show what an amazing, culturally diverse community we have,” said Matt Caranante, Program Development Specialist at the Hudson County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs/Tourism Development. “PATH gives these performers a showcase and helps us to spread the word about our programs.”
Many who auditioned brought a sense of community pride to the courthouse stage.
“We were really excited about the idea of performing on the PATH because we could represent Jersey City and our local music scene,” said Gabrielle Richa, leader singer of the band Apollo Sonders. “We’d love to have all new ears hear our music.”
It sure seemed like the band convinced the judges to let them have a shot. When Richa hit the first note of their original song, ABE, audience members’ and judges’ mouths dropped open, and their eyes widened. They would never have guessed that the band had only been playing together for just one year.
About halfway through the auditions, as the judges were getting ready for a brief break, their ears perked up when they heard a young woman’s voice: “I’m going to start off with a poem about the PATH train.” An audible chuckle reverberated throughout the courthouse rotunda.
Surrounded… on the PATH train.”
The poet, local blogger Jenna Firshein, then shared two original poems, “Coffee” and “Forest” and an excerpt from a young adult science fiction book she’s writing. She said she creates her best work when she’s “really emotional or really ticked off.”
But leave it to high schooler Andrew Wholf to stun the judges with his deftness on the electric guitar. He opened his audition with the Beatles, and soon after had the judges clapping along to his rendition of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
Wholf knows a little something about performing in a transit hub – he has played previously at the Hoboken Terminal through NJ Transit’s Music in Motion series. “You see all the commuters coming home from work looking upset, but when they hear Led Zeppelin or something else I play, you see them get happier, and that makes me happy,” he said with a smile.