At the Student Government Association’s (SGA) annual student talent show Feb. 8, more than ten acts captivated an audience of students, parents and faculty with a wide variety of musical talents. Sophomore Valentina Eusse and junior Natalie Perez took home the first prize for their ukulele/vocal performance of “Waving Through a Window” from the play “Dear Evan Hansen.”
“It was never about winning. It was about having fun,” Eusse said of her ukulele/vocal performance with Perez. “So when we did win, it was shocking. I’m going to miss everyone when I’m gone, and I’m so glad I was able to do something that I’ll definitely remember for the rest of my life.”
SGA has hosted the talent show annually for more than eight years, and this year’s show, emceed by senior SGA presidents Dominique Cunningham and Nicolas Sweet, featured a wide variety of performances, including returning competitor junior Jiayong Lu on the traditional Chinese “zheng,” freshman Cole Holifield with an original beatboxing routine, two electric guitar solos, a punk rock band performance and the classic piano-vocal duet, among others. Cunningham even considered performing herself – singing Beyoncé’s “I Was Here” as a tribute to the end of her four years at Heritage – but decided against it in favor of the emcee position.
While Eusse and Perez came out on top, Holifield took second, and the punk rock band, consisting of juniors Eduardo Giralt and Ian Laor and sophomore Jayson Verebay, placed third. Giralt coincidentally placed third in last year’s show as well, albeit with different band members. This year, with Verebay on drums and Laor on backup guitar, the three played “Last Nite” by The Strokes.
“I actually laughed when I heard us called for third, because me and my previous band last year also won third place,” Giralt said. “Destiny I suppose.” Giralt and his band made good and quick use of their prize money, donating all of it to Project Alive following the show. “We just could not walk away with prize money in good conscience after seeing Mrs. Estevez and Sebastian watching us on stage,” Giralt said. “She was one of my best teachers at Heritage, and she was even responsible for introducing me to Bob Dylan, one of the many artists I love.”
Eusse and Perez travelled down a long and winding road to their eventual talent show performance, a road filled with many bumps. Eusse plans to transfer to another school next year, so she wanted to make her last year at Heritage count in whatever ways she could. One of those ways was through a talent show performance – so she posted on her Snapchat story asking if anyone wanted to perform a duet with her, and Perez stepped up immediately. “Every year in middle school I used to sing with my guitar for the talent show, and I’ve had a little voice nagging at me to do it at Heritage,” Perez said. The duo discussed possible songs and eventually chose “Waving Through a Window.”
“The lyrics really resonate with the whole high school experience,” Eusse said of their song selection. “Most people, at some point in high school, feel alone and out of place. But what I don’t think people realize is that they aren’t alone, and there are people around them feeling the same loneliness. You’re never alone. You just have to look around and you’ll find people going through the same feeling.”
When the two auditioned in front of an SGA board, they “nailed the first verse,” but then “completely fell apart,” according to Perez. Luckily, the SGA board still let them through – and then they placed first.
Perez shared an experience from a rehearsal with Eusse during lunch. “We gained a few fans who were just passing by giving us encouragement, but during our last practice a few people actually stayed with us and listened, and one student even dropped a dollar in my ukulele case,” Perez said. “It was magical.”
Eusse and Perez both felt the same way – like that magic was in the air once more – when their names were called from the podium that night. “Natalie and I looked at each in shock and squealed when we realized what was happening. Honestly, I think I nearly started crying,” Eusse said. “It was just such an empowering moment.”
While Eusse will not be attending Heritage next year to perform again, she hopes Perez will continue their legacy through a new, even better act. “She’s incredibly talented, as everyone else on that stage was,” Eusse said.
Regardless of who won, the goal of the talent show was simply to bring students together for a magical and musical night – and also to support for Project Alive. “Performing isn’t just about self-expression; it’s about having fun with the audience, and they were so engaged with us,” Perez said. “Everyone clapping along was music to my ears in itself.”
Visit projectalive.org to donate or find out more about other ways you can help.