SOUTHERN INDIANA — This weekend, local musicians will take the stage for a chance to perform in a nationally-televised competition.
Three Southern Indiana musicians are among the contestants who will be featured in Sunday's Celebration of Music concert at the Kentucky Science Center. Two winners of this regional competition will then go on to compete in the final show in Los Angeles at the end of the year, which will be broadcast nationally on PBS. The winners, who will be announced live at the Louisville concert, are chosen both through both physical and online voting.
The Celebration of Music, which is presented by Sun and Sky Entertainment, Inc., is a talent search show open to performers from ages 4 to 25, including musicians, dancers and bands. Finalists in cities across the country were chosen after submitting audition tapes, and at Sunday's live concert, they will perform onstage. Those who advance to the LA finale will perform with teenage musical prodigy Ethan Bortnick, who was the inspiration behind the contest.
Online voting for contestants has already begun on the Celebration of Music website and will continue through the evening of the concert. Audience votes at the show are worth 10 votes the night of the concert.
Floyds Knobs resident Ella Unruh, a freshman at Our Lady of Providence of High School, is one of the contestants to perform at the concert. The 14-year-old singer started writing music when she was 8 years old, and she has already recorded two original songs.
"Songwriting has always been like a way for me to put my feelings into writing and make it more than it might seem to be and to really connect with people," she said.
In fifth grade, Unruh recorded a song called "Pray for the Mean Girls" that stemmed from her personal experiences of being bullied. Writing the song helped her find peace in a difficult situation, she said, and the song and music video have been shared in multiple schools to raise awareness of bullying.
The singer/songwriter recently released another original song called "Origami Eyes," which is now streaming on Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify and Youtube. She has performed lead roles in school plays, including Belle in "Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Jr." at Providence, and she performs in a local band called The Roux, which is coached by her Maxwell's House of Music voice instructor.
She has been to several auditions for Disney and Nickelodeon, and although she has received callbacks, she did not advance further. On Sunday, she will perform Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" at Celebration of Music. She said she is nervous and excited about the opportunity to perform in the contest, and she is happy for the chance to pursue music on a more professional level.
She felt a little lost before she found her passion for music, she said, and she wanted to "bottle her happiness" up when she discovered her love of performing. As a musician, she wants to inspire others to follow their dreams.
"I'm pursuing my dreams and the things I love," Unruh said. "I hope that people who see me doing what I love know that they can do whatever they want."
For Jeffersonville resident Kennedy Guyse, 12, singing has been her dream for many years, so the River Valley Middle School student was grateful when she learned she would perform at Louisville's Celebration of Music.
Guyse, who has performed in both school and community theater, auditioned for Celebration of Music in May. She was thrilled when her mother received the email about being selected as a finalist for the regional competition, and she spent the summer searching for the right song before choosing Lady Gaga's "Shallow" for Sunday's concert.
"Even if I don’t win, I'll still have that experience on my resume that I performed on stage in front of quite a lot of people," she said. "I'm very fortunate to have this opportunity."
Music is like a type of medicine, Guyse said, and she has big dreams of making it to Juilliard and performing on Broadway.
"When you feel down or feel a certain kind of thing, music can help you, whether you are singing, dancing or listening to music on headphones in your car," she said.
Rolanda Lewis, Guyse's mother, said her daughter has always had a gift for music, and she has been singing and dancing since age 3. Guyse loves musicals and the TV show "Glee," and she has performed in a school choir competition, according to Lewis.
"Even if she doesn't win, you know she’s going to have a smile on her face," she said. "It's important to her that she pushes herself."
Austin singer/songwriter Jackson Snelling, 17, will perform his original song, "Please Listen" at Sunday's concert. He intends to pursue a career as a musician, and he hopes the Celebration of Music will give more exposure to his music.
"It feels like it's going to be a fun time," he said. "I've never done anything like it before. I'm a little nervous, but not very nervous."
He receives music lessons at Maxwell's House of Music, and he has performed gigs throughout the area. In 2018, he won the Kentuckiana Karaoke Contest, and he has previously auditioned for American Idol. The community has been supportive of his music, he said, and he feels like a "superstar" at Austin High School.
Snelling wrote "Please Listen" in 2018 to address the pain of losing his father at a young age, and the song tells the story about how he would often have to explain to his brother that his father was not coming home. He is autistic, and when he started singing and songwriting, it helped him express his emotions. He recently wrote another original song called "If I Only Knew," which is focused on suicide awareness.
Music has been therapeutic in his own life, and he hopes others feel the same way about his songs.
"My goals are to spread good vibes through my music," Snelling said. "For some people music is like therapy. I want people to relate to my songs, and I want my music to help people."