Harrison School for the Arts incoming senior Janiyah McAllister, 17, of Davenport is a semifinalist in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, known as the Jimmy Awards, held at the end of June in the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway. McAllister, out of a field of 91 other performers, earned a $2,000 scholarship.

The Jimmy Awards are presented by the Broadway League Foundation Inc.’s 46 performing arts centers from across the nation who selected one male and female to compete. McAllister represented the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.

McAllister called the competition “extremely exciting.” Her trip included a stay at The Juilliard School, her dream college.

“(We) rehearsed every day throughout the day for the different numbers of the show. There was something new to look forward to every day,” said McAllister.

When they weren’t rehearsing, McAllister said, she and other participants went to see “Moulin Rouge” on Broadway and eat at the famous Sardi’s restaurant.

Mentoring was also a part of the experience. McAllister said each competitor received coaching sessions on solos from Broadway performers; her coach was Janet Dacal, who played “Carla” in the critically acclaimed “In the Heights.”

“My favorite thing about it was the fact that I was enjoying myself so much I almost forgot that there was going to be winners selected at the end. There was such a strong sense of community and camaraderie that the Jimmy’s staff fostered,” McAllister said, adding that she celebrated her 17th birthday while there. Her trip to New York also was her first airplane flight.

To participate in the Jimmy Awards, McAllister had to be selected through the Broadway Star of the Future Awards Showcase, held at the Straz Center on May 22 in Tampa. Students from 34 high schools applied to be a part of the competition. Her winning performance included playing Esmeralda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and performing the song, “God Help the Outcasts.”

Straz Center officials called McAllister a triple threat who they envision will perform and teach theater in the future.

“Janiyah has a beautiful stage presence. She has a lovely voice and control. Her talents are equally matched by her focus and commitment. She is a mature and professional performer,” said Audrey Siegler, managing director of Theater of the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center.

McAllister has been singing since she was 3 years old, first at church and then in elementary school concerts. She went on to attend Davenport School of the Arts, where she was cast in her first musical, “The Lion King Jr.,” as Rafiki. She then went on to Harrison School for the Arts. A 50-minute ride from Davenport, McAllister wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to catch the bus by 4:30 a.m. to go to school.

As for her future, McAllister would possibly love to be a traveling performer on a national or international tour.

“I have many passions, so it’s not even 100% certain that I’ll end up being in musical theater. I enjoy playing the bass, digital design, programming, technology, and have interests and skills in a few other fields. However, with the accomplishments I’ve had the previous years, it looks a little more within reach to make it where I want to be, which is on any stage,” McAllister explained.

McAllister said participating in the Jimmy Awards boosted her self-esteem and convinced her she could succeed in whatever industry she chooses.

“This experience has allowed me to find a new appreciation for myself and has allowed me to grow confidence in what I bring to the spaces and environments that I work in,” McAllister said.


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Stephanie Claytor

Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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