YoungArts' Second Annual Awareness Day Is a Drag (in a Good Way)

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India Carney

Viola Davis, Kerry Washington and Nicki Minaj once trained at the performance boot camp, which showcased its recent alumni in a campaign to encourage young artists.

The YoungArts Foundation, a performance boot camp that once was a training ground for Kerry Washington, Viola Davis and Nicki Minaj, celebrated its second annual YoungArts Awareness Day on Sept. 24 with a showcase of some of the program’s young alumni at Madame Siam in West Hollywood.

A highlight of the festivities: a drag dance performance by Laganja Estranja, who graduated YoungArts in 2007 (under the name Jay Jackson) and became a contestant on Rupaul's Drag Race (which led to her choreographing Miley Cyrus’ 2015 VMA performance). “She moved in ways that I didn’t know the human body could move,” remarked one astonished attendee. Other performers included singer-songwriter Black Gatsby (real name D’Angelo Lacy), tap dancer Michelle May, singer Fiona Grey, classical ballet dancer Nicole Ishimaru and The Voice’s India Carney, who sang a cover of Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy.”

The showcase was one of three simultaneous performances held around the country — another was in Miami and a third in New York — to drum up awareness of the YoungArts Foundation, which invites students in the literary, performance and visual arts to train through master classes, receive mentorships and compete for scholarships and performance opportunities. The common factor across all YoungArts students is that “they are serious in their art, they have great imagination and creativity,” said Lisa Leone, the foundation’s vp artistic programs.

For Leone, watching alum Davis’ recent acceptance speech at the Emmys was validation of YoungArts’ mission. “We were jumping out of our seats,” she says. “But if you saw her audition tape when she was 17, she was killing it then.”

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