WINNSBORO — Fairfield Central High School’s Calvin Johnson has found his voice. Now, he needs his community to make its voice heard.
The senior is one of 10 finalists in the BB&T “This School’s Got Talent” competition for South Carolina K-12 public school students. Johnson received nearly all of his artistic training through the Fairfield County School District’s arts programs, beginning in third grade with Artsworks camp and then progressing to dance. By seventh grade he had started singing and by high school had added dancing to his repertoire.
For This School’s Got Talent, he sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical “Les Miserables,” a song usually performed by a female. He thinks putting his own spin on the tune helped get him into the Top 10.
Johnson entered the competition last year but was not selected. He said that took some of the pressure off for this year. He said he performed for the fun of it and for the lens of theater teacher Julianne Neal’s IPad that was used to record the Youtube video she sent into the contest.
He was one of over 130 students who participated and he received strong marks from celebrity judges including Grammy Award-winning Hootie & The Blowfish, Dean Felber, Mark Bryan and Paul Graham. “This is a huge honor to be picked by the pros even if I don’t win,” Johnson said.
He admits getting nervous before shows.
“But I can’t let my classmates see me that way,” Johnson said. “I did not expect to have such a powerful influence but how I act (sets the tone) for how everyone else acts, too.”
Johnson is thankful to his parents, Calvin Sr. and Pamela Johnson, for helping him develop his talents, whether it be by driving him to sing at weddings or encouraging him to sing at Kingdom Hall Gatherings for his Jehovah’s Witness church.
“They support my practices. Everything that has to do with my performing career can be traced back to my parents and Mrs. Neal,” he said.
He also credits FCHS chorus director Stacy Tyson and FCHS dance instructor Melissa McCrary for helping him grow as an artist. Johnson has registered to audition for the AMDA School of the Performing Arts and for the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Theater.
He said lessons learned from two trips to New York for the FCHS advanced theater ensemble will be of great help as he auditions. The New York trips, facilitated by the School District of Fairfield County, were an eye opener for him and inspired him to dream big.
“I learned audition techniques from classes (at the Broadway Student Summit),” he said. ”We were taking classes right beside the area where people were auditioning and could hear them. We realized I was just as good and a lot of my classmates are just as good (as the people auditioning are).”
Students attended classes in the morning with actors who later performed in plays that the FCHS students attended. Then, they talked to the actors and actresses backstage after the performance. There, Johnson met Montego Glover from the play “Memphis” and met actors who starred in the musical “Hairspray.”
“During that trip I realized this was what I wanted to do and that there are so many opportunities beyond Winnsboro and Fairfield County,” he said.
During the trip he took his junior year, he and his classmates raised half of the funds for the trip and the district provided the rest. They were unable to find the funding for a New York trip this year, but he hopes future trips to the summit will be part of the legacy he and his classmates are leaving at FCHS.
A few of his favorite things
In addition to drama, Johnson likes all kinds of music and even plays keyboard. He has a thing for horror novels, with his favorite book being The Skeleton Man. He loves ice cream but might need to find a new favorite food as he has learned ice cream is hard on the vocal chords. Like many teens he is active on Facebook and Twitter.
By far, his favorite FCHS performance was of Mufasa in the Lion King, a role he had two years ago. When he was a boy in the Artsworks program, they took a field trip to Charlotte to see The Lion King and the trip sunk in with Johnson.
Part of the Lion King performance appeal was its role as Johnson’s coming out party to family, particularly his father.
“My father did not know I was that talented in the arts. I just told him to go to the show and see,” he said.
During the performance, Johnson sang “Delray” from Memphis and the song “Underground” and the Lion King song “He Lives in You.” The last song moved his father to tears.
This year’s Jean Val Jean lead part in Les Miserables is his favorite FCHS musical role, though. As lead, he sings the bulk of the 2.5 hour play, which has no spoken parts.
When not on stage in the spotlight, Johnson loves volunteering and helping people. He volunteers with young children and also at Fairfield Memorial Hospital. Johnson also enjoys spending time with his family, and is a talented tennis and basketball player.
Johnson wants young people to take one lesson away from this experience.
“If you underestimate yourself, that determines how good you are,” he said. “If I don’t think I can do it, no one else will believe in me. How can I prove to them I am capable if I don’t believe it first?”
The winner will perform live at the South Carolina Teacher of the Year Celebration and at the opening concert for the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SUNNEX Corporation on May 17.
To vote, go to https://www.facebook.com/southcarolinafutureminds. Under the time line photo is a tab with “BB&T This School’s Got Talent” under it. Click there, scroll down and find Calvin Johnson’s video entry and the “vote” link. Voting runs through March 31. Voters can cast one vote every 24 hours.