By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager
Chelsea Mayo walks through midtown Manhattan like a teen on a mission. She takes in the sensory overload of the Big Apple with characteristic finesse. This 18-year-old is equal parts ingénue and sophisticate.
Chelsea won the Dallas portion of the National Endowment for the Arts’ inaugural Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students, which was managed locally by Big Thought. She and her travel companion, dad Michael Mayo, hit New York City by storm July 22-25 for the final competition. The top prize was a $5,000 scholarship, with each national runner-up receiving $2,500 scholarships. Chelsea competed with Angel Rodriguez of Seattle and Jake Berglove of Minneapolis.
Scholarships came courtesy of the National Music Publishers’ Association Supporting Our Next Generation of Songwriters (S.O.N.G.S.) Foundation. Sony/ATV published the national winner’s song.
For Chelsea, the prize was really the events leading up to the big announcement. As we walked over to the legendary Sardi’s in Times Square for a get-to-know-everybody dinner, Chelsea marveled at the energy of the world-renowned city.
“New York was really inspiring to me because it felt so electric,” she says. “Just being there made me feel like I was a part of something special. I loved the way I could walk around and recognize places from movies and album covers. It was surreal! I think that New York is unlike any other place in the world because it has so much history and I’m really grateful to have gotten to experience some of it.”
Experience is an understatement. Chelsea met John Doyle, the Tony Award-winning director of The Color Purple, which we all saw Saturday evening at the Bernard K. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway. Doyle spoke to all of the finalists, chaperones and partner representatives about the theater, offering invaluable advice stemming from a career spanning over 40 years.
She also worked closely with songwriter Anna K. Jacobs and pianist/musical director Lynne Shankel. Jacobs and Shankel took Chelsea’s song “Say Goodbye,” a moving manifesto about a woman who feels lost in a consuming relationship that has erased her true identity, and gave it a facelift. Jacobs offered Chelsea advice on how to tweak the lyrics for greater impact, suggesting a bigger build up to the chorus and strategic pulling back to reach the grand finale.
Mayo wrote the song after struggling to pursue her musical aspirations even when her friends and family felt disappointed by her career decision.
“She has such a distinct voice as a songwriter,” says Jacobs about Chelsea. “We talked about where she was coming from emotionally when she was writing the song. I loved the depth she put into it. She put herself into the song. She was able to take her own personal life experience to come up with the musical theater story. That is what a true artist does.”
Chelsea spent much of the day Sunday rehearsing with professional musicians and singers. Shankel played piano, and Bonnie Milligan sang “Say Goodbye.” Chelsea introduced her song before a panel of judges that featured singer-actor Norm Lewis, songwriter Adam Gwon, singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, Sony/ATV Director of Theatrical Development George Maloian, and Charlotte Sellmyer from the National Music Publishers Association.
“I feel like I’ve won already because I have had so many rewarding experiences and learned so much from professional musicians,” says Chelsea, minutes before the competition began. “I’ve worked with a band and mentors that have given me hope in the music business. I feel like I’ve made connections with all of them and I feel like I’ve learned so much already. Really, I’ve won already.”
Milligan performed “Say Goodbye” with heart and soul, dipping and soaring in all the right places to convey the deep emotions of the song.
Chelsea’s dad Michael Mayo sat in the audience, listening intently to his daughter’s composition.
“I’m genuinely proud of her,” he says. “I’m happy with the way the song turned out. It really sounds musical theater to me. I’m so proud of the way she interacted with people, very genuine, personable. She left an impression of herself with people. She has contacts now and they like her. As long as she puts in the work, she’ll be fine.”
In the end, Chelsea Mayo was named a runner-up taking home a $2,500 scholarship. Angel Rodriguez of Seattle claimed the grand prize with his potent tune, “Bleeding.”
Chelsea didn’t bat an eye. She was elated. She was beaming.
“I feel good,” she says. “I feel like I’m going home with priceless information. This has been such an amazing experience.”
Big Thought thanks the National Endowment for the Arts, Playbill, Inc., Disney Theatrical Group, National Music Publishers’ Association Supporting Our Next Generation of Songwriters (S.O.N.G.S.) Foundation, and Sony/ATV for their generous support.
Pictured: Chelsea Mayo, center, with Anna K. Jacobs (left) and Lynne Shankel at Carroll Studios in New York City. Photo by Mario Tarradell/Big Thought.