This year, 74 students from across the U.S. traveled to New York City to compete in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, otherwise known as the Jimmys, which were presented June 26 at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre.
Two of this year’s nominees, Maggie Gidden and Adrian Villegas from La Mirada, California, shared highlights of their week with Playbill.
Meeting Other Young Artists Who Share a Passion for Theatre
My last coaching session with Michael McElroy was a moment I will never forget. I was listening to Maddie Rubin (who is so incredibly talented) sing “Stranger to the Rain,” and as I looked around and saw my other friends in the room, I realized how much love I had for them and how grateful I was to be a part of this incredible experience. The fact that we all started as strangers, but ended up sharing some of our most vulnerable experiences in that coaching with each other was incredible. My heart became full at the thought of being so close to these other people who had the same passions as me. This part of the Jimmys was so memorable to me because it was the time when it really sunk in that these friends are for life. They won’t ever go away, and I don’t want them to.
Our First Performance for the Press
Another memorable moment of the Jimmys was when we performed our opening number for the press on Friday morning. I could feel the energy pulsing through the room and all the love from my fellow nominees and friends as we moved through the dance. Soon the number was over, and as I looked over to our choreographer, Kiesha Lalama, to get notes. I noticed that she was crying. In that moment I realized that we had created a show that not only the cast could be proud of, but also everyone else that laid a hand on this beautiful show.
Watching My Fellow Nominees Perform
As we got closer to the awards show, it was time to rehearse for the auditions that determined the finalists. It was kind of exciting and terrifying all at the same time. All 74 of us were packed into the Shubert Theatre at NYU waiting to watch everyone perform. As soon as every number finished, all of the nominees stood up and cheered for the other groups. I have never met a group of more encouraging and kind people in all of my life, and I was so glad to have found them here. I definitely want to give all of the 73 other nominees a standing ovation!
Ben Platt Calling My Name as a Finalist
The next moment is one that I am barely starting to comprehend now because of how completely insane it was. It was the night of the Jimmy Awards, and the first act had finished, which meant that it was now time to announce the finalists. I remember hearing the names of these amazing people I knew, and I was so incredibly proud and excited for them. Then the craziest thing happened. Ben Platt announced that I was a finalist! First of all, Ben Platt announcing my name on a Broadway stage is a dream come true, but I could not believe what had just happened. I was surrounded by happiness and love and all of these amazing people. I could not have been more lucky or joyful.
Performing on a Broadway Stage
The Jimmy Awards were probably the craziest night of my life because of so many things, but I think my next moment is one of the craziest things to happen. Because I was chosen to be a finalist, I got to sing my solo song for the entire audience. A Broadway audience. Going on stage and singing for all of those people was so incredibly life changing. It is one of those things that you can dream about, but you don’t know if it will ever come true. And it happened for me at the most amazing program with the most amazing directors, choreographers, stage managers, musical directors, and 73 people I call dear friends. I will never forget the Jimmy Awards. They changed my life.
Returning to the Jimmys and Feeling More Determined Than Ever
The first moment I distinctly remember would be when I stepped out of the car and looked all the way up to the top of the NYU Founder’s Hall dorm. Being that it was my second time at the Jimmy Awards, I felt incredibly stunned that everything seemed so familiar to me. The only thing that had felt different to me was the energy around me. Rather than feeling anxious and nervous, like the first time, I felt a sense of eagerness and determination. I was so ready to take on this great challenge, for I knew that no matter what would occur throughout the next nine days, I would leave the experience as a better performer and person overall.
Knowing I Had Friends From the Moment I Arrived
Another distinct moment during my time would be when I walked into my dorm room for the first time, to see my bed had already been made with a signed Book of Mormon Playbill resting on it. There was also a note on it that read, “I can’t wait for the exciting adventures we have ahead. Congratulations on making it this far, it’ll be a pleasure working with you. Love, your roommate Trey.” I immediately felt so welcomed by my roommate that I knew the week would be filled with all sorts of amazing people, just like him. The support that everyone gave each other throughout the week was beautiful to watch, and taking part in it was just as rewarding.
Dedicating My Solo Number to My Brother
Performing my solo number, “Let It Sing,” in front of all the judges was also a moment to remember. The song was so close to my heart because I had dedicated it to my brother, who has never had the opportunity to hear me sing or perform. As I got up there to sing, I suddenly forgot about everyone else in the room and I sang directly to my brother, telling him to “give it room and let it sing.” I felt so powerful in that moment, for it was just me expressing my passion through my art and living in the moment during every single second. As soon as the performance was over, I felt a rush of happiness through my body. I would not have changed a thing. I felt like I gave such an honest performance. After the solos, I ran into our choreographer, Kiesha Lalama, during dinner and she looked at me and said, “You have improved so much since last year. I’m so proud of you.” I will never forget how fulfilled I felt in that moment.
Letting Go and Being Proud of the Work I Showed
When the lights went up on the Minskoff stage for the opening number, the adrenaline was absolutely unreal. Every ounce of stress I had immediately dissipated, and there was nothing stopping me from being completely vulnerable. It was the most rewarding experience to share a Broadway stage with so many talented people that I now call my friends. The rest of the show was amazing also, and performing the “Confrontation” as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde was an absolute dream. When the time came to announce the finalists, I was so happy to hear Maggie Gidden’s name called. I thought I was going to be disappointed with not being a finalist two years in a row, but in fact it was actually a very humbling experience. It allowed me to be proud of myself for the art I displayed in front of the judges, because I knew that I was proud of what I showed everyone, and I was completely and 100 percent me. No one can do me better than I can, and so I already felt like a winner in my own heart.
Taking in the Experience and Looking Ahead to the Future
The day after the performance was so interesting, because everyone finally had let their guard down after so many days of intensity. We were all vulnerable and honest with each other, finally realizing the bond that we had created throughout these nine long days. We all commended each other on the unbelievable talent that each one of us possesses. No one was bitter, but rather humbled and grateful for everything. As I said goodbye to everyone, I was coming to terms with the fact that many of these people I will not see anymore. However, many of them I will see in the future, when they are in the same audition room with me, looking to be cast in a new Broadway musical. I know I will work with many of these people in years to come, and I will remember where it all started. We came in 37 groups of two, and quickly transformed into one huge family of 74. I would have not changed a single thing about the experience, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.