At the 2014 Young Americans workshop, a little 7th-grade boy walked onstage and began to fiddle with a 1940’s radio. As he changed the channel, a different, more well-known song would play. A year later, that boy was one of five freshmen in the cast of Cinderella. He earned a spot in State Honors Choir, got Division One at State Solo and Ensemble, and currently participates as the youngest Vocalaire. That little boy is now Soph. Jaelan Williams.
Middle school is a time when most students figure out what extra-curricular activities they like to do. Many try sports or academic clubs, but Williams found his love for theatre in 6th grade when he was in the ensemble of The Wiz: “When I was in The Wiz, it was so amazing. Someone who really inspired me to do theatre was James Monetta. James was always so helpful in the audition process,” Williams said.
Williams began singing in choir in 3rd grade. Then, during the holiday season of his 5th grade year, the Vocalaires sang at his elementary school. Starstruck by the Vocs men, Williams knew that the arts was something that he wanted to do. Being a boy involved in the arts can be rough, especially in middle school. For Williams, that meant being bullied by his classmates. Williams didn’t quit doing choir and theatre because of his bullies. Instead, the theatre and the choir room became a safe place for him. “It is was a place where I felt welcome; it was always a place where there were kind people. There were some people that made some comments on how theatre and choir were for girls. Mostly ‘cause I didn’t do sports. Sometimes people will say mean things to you and those words will hurt,” Williams said.
After performing in The Wiz, Williams went on to perform in more musicals: most recently Cinderella and Crazy for You. But being one of the youngest cast members has some struggles. “It was rough being a freshman when previously I was on top as an 8th grader. I felt a bit uncomfortable at first with the improv games. Mostly cause I have a hard time opening up to people. I’m someone who opens up a lot more when I’m onstage. A big difference from middle school and high school was that in high school it’s more intense but people have a passion for it. The work ethic is very different,” Williams said.
Every great artist has someone who inspired them.“Even when I was really insecure, Mr. Huber inspired me to do the arts. He really pushed me to open up and feel the music. He’s always inspired me to be my best. Practice doesn’t make perfect it make permanent,” Williams said.
Williams is an artist with a heart of gold. In the future, Williams wants to give back and inspire kids to get involved in the arts. “I was a boy wanting to find what they love. I always wanted to make everyone happy even though I wasn’t happy myself. I did the Young Americans back in 2014 and met college students who found themselves and did the same things that I liked to do. It really inspired me to find myself. Dancing in front of more than 300 students that I didn’t know. I want to help kids find themselves through music and art like how the Young Americans helped me. Bill Brawley told me, this past year, that whenever you do something don’t do it just to do it. You need to love what you are doing and feel it. Singing ‘Precious Lord’ was life changing. I’ve always love singing but I get nervous. I doubt myself a lot. Singing with my best friend really helped me in that moment on stage. People from my church were crying. I had found that voice inside me,” Williams said.
Williams knows that he is not alone and has some advice for those struggling with self-worth and trying to find their voice: “I can say this. Surround yourself with people that love to do what you do. I’ve had to leave the toxic people behind and join the people who love me. And that has gotten me to where I am today,” Williams said.