Kersten Stevens ’06 signed up for the Funk music class because she thought it sounded cool. She did not realize at the time that she actually had personal experience with some of the music legends the class would study.
Reading about Ray Charles, she can think back to April 2002, when she not only met, but opened for, Charles and his band. And now, when the class reads about New York’s famous Apollo Theater, Stevens can remember playing on its stage just two weeks ago, when she taped three segments of the television program “Showtime at the Apollo.”
Playing The Temptations’ “Papa was a Rolling Stone” on her violin all three times, Stevens competed against other musicians for the live audience’s favor. Contestants are judged by the volume of the audience’s applause (or boos, as the case may be). Winners move onto the next round of competition. Previous competitors include the Jackson 5, Alicia Keyes, and Lauryn Hill — who got booed off stage.
Stevens won her first show, which aired on NBC at 1 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 19. Also in her competition were two soloists — one sang a Brian McKnight song , the other sang a song by Musiq Soulchild. She attributed her win to the fact that her competition were all singers, so she stood out as an instrumentalist.
Jeremy Ershow ’06, who watched her performance last Sunday, disagreed with this modest view.
“It was so cool because here’s this girl — this nice, sweet girl — on national tv, just going nuts, lightin’ it up. She was in such a groove. It was great,” Ershow said.
After she won, Stevens returned to the Apollo stage a second time (the show airs this Sunday at 1 a.m.), when she got second place. She graciously praised the winner, a human beat-box, whom she described as “an unassuming white guy wearing an Abercrombie T-shirt.”
“He was phat,” Stevens said.
Although she came in second, the producers asked Stevens back for the final championship show (taped last week, it will air on May 18). The third time around, Stevens’ competition included an opera singer, a tap dancer, and an a capella group.
Sherrise Pond ’06 accompanied Stevens to New York and sat in the audience with Stevens’ mother during the performance. Pond, who has watched “Showtime at the Apollo” before, said she was unsure how Stevens’ instrumental performance would be received in a competition primarily between vocalists.
“I was a little nervous about Kersten’s performance just because her talent is so new,” Pond said. “But it was fun to see the crowd get really hyped.”
Even though she was well received, Stevens didn’t win. The winner sang Maxwell’s “It’s Women’s Work.”
“I didn’t win, I didn’t expect to win — but it was a good time,” Stevens said.
Stevens first played at the Apollo Theater in October, 1999 — her sophomore year in high school. She was invited to compete in “Amateur Night at the Apollo” by a connection she made at Hal Jackson’s Talented Teen International Scholarship Competition, which she had entered in May of that year. She appeared on the show four times, progressing to a different level each time, and each time getting second place.
Now, having performed three more times on the Apollo Stage, Stevens may not have won the championship, but she should at least recognize one term on her Funk exam.