Three Mason students are semifinalists in ‘NextGen’ vocal competition

Kathleen West in the role of Polly Peachum in the School of Theater's production of "Threepenny Opera." Photo provided.

Three George Mason University students have made it to the semifinals of the third annual “NextGen: Finding the Voices of Tomorrow” competition, sponsored by the American Pops Orchestra. The program will be streamed online April 24-25, where a panel of judges and audience members will vote for their favorites.

Senior Kathleen West, junior Jessica Barraclough and sophomore Drake Leach are all theater majors concentrating in musical theater, and are three of 30 semifinalists from 14 schools across the D.C. area.

“All three have been involved in our Mason Cabaret group, they’ve all been involved in our musical theater productions, and are very active in our program,” said Kevin Murray, the program manager and interim director of Mason’s School of Theater. “I couldn't have been happier that they picked such great students.”

The students auditioned for the competition earlier this year at Mason. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the competitors in the final two rounds will record their submissions in their homes, which will then be streamed and judged. Register to see the event.

West, from Fredericksburg, Virginia, was in the competition last year.

Junior Jessica Barraclough played Rebecca in the School of Theater production of "Rags." Photo provided.

“It was such a fantastic experience,” she said. “I know how crazy talented everybody is, so it is really such an honor to get to be one of those people alongside them.”

“It’s been super fun,” said Leach, from Dallas, Texas. “I remember the actual audition process was very fun, was very stress free. Usually at auditions you feel the sensation of stress, you feel the sensation of kind of freaking out a little bit. But this one I was immediately put at ease by the people running the competition.”

Barraclough, from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, agreed: “It’s been great. It’s been a really welcoming experience. Everybody seemed so nice.”

The competition isn’t all fun and games, though—it offers valuable experience and exposure that builds on the base created in Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. The curriculum of the musical theater concentration, according to Murray, is “the most rigorous program we have.”

Mason’s theater students receive weekly one-on-one vocal coaching, take acting and music theory classes, and are paired with a faculty mentor and an academic advisor to nurture their talents in college and beyond.

Sophomore Drake Leach played Davis in the School of Theater production of "Really, Really." Photo provided.

“We get them started,” Murray said. “We give them good training and good opportunities and good contacts, but they are going to continue to learn and continue to grow as artists for years to come.”

Mason’s CVPA faculty have been enthusiastic supporters of the three semifinalists, the students said. They specifically named Murray, vocal coach and professor Jim Van Slyke, adjunct faculty members Erin and James Gardiner, and assistant professor and Mason’s accompanist in the competition Joe Walsh.

“They have offered to watch our videos, give critiques, and help us get our performances to a place where we feel comfortable sharing it with the public, and we feel good about what we’re sending in,” Leach said.

Barraclough praised her teachers as well, saying they were “some really great people that have had a huge impact on my education. It’s cool to see everything that they’ve taught me kind of paying off in the end.”