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Meet Chelsea Mayo, A Young Lady With Musical Theater Dreams

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

A master librettist could have penned this story: A teen with a dream that defies convention. She feels alienated by her friends. But she must follow her passion, even if that means standing alone on an island. Only her dad offers enough quiet encouragement to keep her focused, to keep her eye on the prize.

Meet Chelsea Mayo. She’s 18, a recent graduate of R.L. Turner High School in Farmers Branch. Everything you just read is true. It’s not the work of a musical theater plot maker. That is Chelsea’s story.

Chelsea’s tale has a triumphant ending, like the most exhilarating conclusion to a Broadway musical. Chelsea is the Dallas winner of the inaugural National Endowment for the Arts Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students. Her song, a moving ballad titled “Say Goodbye,” scored a ticket to New York City July 22-25 where she will compete with winners from Seattle and Minneapolis for $5000 in scholarship money and the chance to have her song professionally published by Sony/ATV.

But here’s the really great part: Even if Chelsea lands in second or third place in New York, she’s still taking home a $2500 scholarship courtesy of National Music Publishers’ Association Supporting Our Next Generation of Songwriters (S.O.N.G.S.) Foundation. Plus she gets to bring a chaperone with her to the Big Apple, anybody she likes. Naturally, Chelsea chose her dad Michael Mayo.

“My dad is the only one who is supportive of me and my music dream,” she said. “He tried to be a musician when he was my age. I get all of my musical talent from him. Since winning the contest my mom now knows that I do have the talent and perhaps I will go far with music.”

Chelsea came in victorious among contestants from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Highland Park High School, Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center and Cedar Hill High School, to name a few. She wowed a panel of renowned Dallas musical theater judges including Kevin Moriarty, Curtis King, Liz Mikel, Tracy Jordan and Ariana Cook. Winning the contest proved life changing for Chelsea. She’ll be on her first plane ride. She’ll visit New York City, the musical theater mecca, for the first time. She’ll see her first Broadway musical. She’ll listen to real life musical theater experts critique her work.

“To have the opportunity to visit such a great city where musical theater thrives is amazing,” she said. “I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to visit New York City were it not for this contest.”

But how did this contest make its way to Chelsea’s world? Big Thought, which manages the Dallas portion of the national NEA challenge, sent out email blasts to educators all across Dallas County calling for students to create an original musical theater song and upload it on www.arts.gov/songwriting. It was Chelsea’s choir director that got the Big Thought e-blast and alerted Chelsea about the opportunity.

“I love musical theater and I love songwriting,” Chelsea said. “I never really had the opportunity to write songs professionally. I wrote songs for myself or for church. And I needed the scholarship money, so this was the perfect combination.”

Chelsea, a Dallas-born self-taught vocalist, pianist and guitarist, penned “Say Goodbye” specifically for the challenge. She created a musical theater story around a character named Julie Sonnen who has given up her dreams and aspirations of becoming a singer for a relationship that eventually sours. Julie finds herself intimated by the possibilities of pursuing her original dream; she had grown accustomed to settling for a relationship. By the song’s conclusion, Julie is in New York City living the life of a budding singer.

“This song was inspired by a recent time in my life where many of the friends and family I depended on began to leave me behind and became disappointed in me because of my decision to study music,” Chelsea explains. “I was being pulled in so many directions, and I simply wasn’t who everyone wanted me to be. My life has always revolved around music, and I only recently decided to tell my close friends and family that music was going to be my major. While my friends were deciding to study Biology and Pre-Med, I was doing music auditions. Suddenly I didn’t fit in or measure up. I was devastated, but I realized that as much as I wished I could please everyone, I couldn’t bend my dreams to the wills of others and expect to be happy. This is a song about the need to take control and create your own life – even after you’ve been living the wrong dream for too long.”

That’s not going to happen here. Chelsea is a smart, practical young lady. Yes, she dreams of being a renowned singer-songwriter. But she understands the serendipitous nature of artistic success. So she’s majoring in music business at Dallas Baptist University. She brings with her the best of two worlds – dad Michael was born in Dallas, while mom Maria was born in Mexico. Chelsea does not speak Spanish fluently, but she can carry a conversation in her mother’s native tongue.

As for her musical background, songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole King are heavy influences. She’s been onstage in minor roles during scholastic musical productions. Mostly, though, she’s played her music for fellow churchgoers at the sanctuary.

Come late July, Chelsea Mayo will perform for a larger, much more influential audience. That’ll be a story no librettist could pen.

Big Thought thanks the National Endowment for the Arts, Playbill Inc. and Disney Theatrical Group for its generous support of the pilot NEA Musical Theater Challenge for High School Students.

Big ThoughtMeet Chelsea Mayo, A Young Lady With Musical Theater Dreams