NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The Apollo Theater is not only rich in history, every week it continues to cultivate new talent.
Amateur Night at the Apollo, now is in its 86th year, is the longest-running talent contest in the world, reports CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.
Performers come from around the globe for a shot at making it.
“This is a landmark of Harlem – nope, a landmark of America brother!” said Marion Caffey, producer of Amateur Night at The Apollo. “There’s no other theater you can put above us.”
The first Amateur Night was in 1934. That night a 17-year-old named Ella Fitzgerald was discovered. Since then, it has become a place where the careers of music legends are born: James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5 all won Amateur Night at the Apollo.
“You feel like, ‘Do I belong on a stage where they were?’ Then there’s the other side of me that says ‘You know what? Yeah, I belong here,’ so its a bit of both,” says performer Suzie Q.
Suzie Q went through soundcheck hours before the doors open. There’s no panel of judges here; the audience decides, and they are not forgiving. Dave Chappelle was booed off the stage, and so was Luther Vandross a record four times.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” said comedian Andre Mitchell. “The audience will love you or hate, you there’s no middle ground.”
It’s a rite of passage for any young performer to come to the Apollo and test your chops, to see how good you really think you are.
The most recognizable tradition is the Tree of Hope. It used to stand outside the Lafayette Theater where performers would rub it for good luck. Even after the tree was cut down, this stump and tradition remain.
“It’s a little weird to think about all the sweat of legends and non-legends in that piece of wood,” said Caffey. “But when you touch it and honor the spirit of it, there’s some mighty hands that have touched that piece of wood.”
Standing by the wall of autographs, the moments before a performance are different for everyone. Some are excited, others pensive.
On this night, Andre felt the wrath of the crowd.
“This is gonna fuel me,” he said. “It’s gonna make a great story one day. ‘You know Andre Mitchell got boo’ed?’ It’s a tough crowd cause Andre Mitchell is funny!”
The Apollo routinely sells out Amateur Night because fans could get a glimpse of the next star.
Hitting a high note, Suzie Q won her night.
One note can launch a career if it’s on the stage of the Apollo.