French Culture Guide

French Culture in New York, with a Touch of Paris

A Night at the Apollo

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Harlem is a world famous neighborhood that has recently acquired a new face. Few years ago, it was still an economically depressed neighborhood with a rising crime rate. However, this past reality is now only a myth some tourists still believe in order to spice up their stay in New York City. Now, Harlem is one of the most attractive neighborhoods where a lot of European ex-pats are actually moving with their families. It’s a cozy district surrounded by parks and playgrounds. The more famous attractions for visitors are the campus of Columbia University and the Gospel churches, but there are actually more spots to discover such as one of the oldest theater in the city, the legendary Apollo Theatre.


This historical site was built in 1914. You can see the mark of the past in the architecture of the theatre. Inside, the Apollo has a classical design with its red velvet seats and its titanic luster. These days, however, your return to the past lasts only a few seconds since a few minutes after the opening of the doors, a DJ comes on stage and makes the walls of the theatre resonate with the most current songs. However, the modern sounds do provide a promising start to kick off an evening there.


Indeed, the Apollo theatre has a large range of shows, but among them is the famous Amateur Night. Held on Wednesday, this special night is open to the public. In other words, it’s a major showcase for many young, talented, new performers who can have the opportunity to face a real audience. They own the stage for one performance to convince the audience of their talent. This event started in 1934, and since then, a huge number of artists have been discovered including Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, James Brown and Lauryn Hill.


The originality of this show is the role the public plays in deciding the future of the candidates. They choose the winners and can participate in the birth of a new star. No pressure… right? That said, the Apollo’s slogan is still “sit back, relax, and enjoy the party.”


To put everybody in the mood, the host invites some people from the audience and challenges them to dance on stage. Thanks to the support of the public, the most successful ones win great gifts. This step puts everybody in the mood, directs their focus on the stage and gets them ready for the contest.


The first sequence showcased kids and teens. There were four performances by children aged nine to thirteen years old. They presented three solos and one rock band. It was impressive to see such young kids facing the stage courageously while sharing their passion. They mostly showed their vocal talents, but each of them had a different musical style.


Finally, the biggest part of the show started. The instructions were clear; you have to cheer or to boo as loud as you can. The audience had full power and must use it to clarify their opinion. They were the only judges! That night, ten performers came on stage to defend their positions and hoped to win the chance to be a big part of the big finale in October. Most of them were singers, but there were also a musician and a stand-up comedian. It was a very good night where not a lot of performers were booed. The level was very high with jaw-dropping performances. The only person who faced boos was the comedian. This young guy from Long Island preferred to leave the stage after a few boos. Certainly panicked and embarrassed, he decided to end his performance after only a few jokes.


At the end of the series of performances, all the candidates came back on stage to face their destiny represented by the applause barometer. Three of them won that night and among them the young stand-up guy. His win was completely unexpected. His victory was proof of the power the audience had. They can support or ruin a whole career in one random decision. When you think it’s finished, it’s actually only the start.


By Kenza Yahrfouri