Just a few weeks ago, Areon Mobasher and Eva Noblezada were crowned Best Actor and Actress at the second annual Blumey Awards, the Charlotte area’s Tony Awards for high school students.
June 26, they’ll fly to New York City to compete in the Jimmy Awards, a national competition for high school students who won regional qualifiers. Unlike the Blumeys, which recognizes achievements such as best costume creation and best featured performer, the Jimmys will name one best actor and actress from among 60 contestants.
Areon, who just graduated from Charlotte Latin, and Eva, a rising senior at Northwest School of the Arts, took different paths on their road to the Jimmys.
From heavy metal to ‘Les Mis’
Areon loves science. He’s always thought he’d be a doctor. His favorite two classes this past year were comparative anatomy and neuroscience, and he’s planning to study biochemistry at N.C. State University, where he’ll begin studies this fall.
Areon, who won Best Actor for playing Jean Valjean in the high school edition of “Les Miserables,” has always liked music. He started playing guitar in middle school. Areon was in a Christian heavy metal band – Bruised But Not Broken – for his first two years of high school, playing keyboard and singing backup.
But he never delved into theater until his senior year. The change from heavy-metal rockouts to operatic flourishes was gradual: Areon took art his sophomore year, and per some of his friends’ suggestion, switched to choir junior year.
He got in by singing a scale for Craig Estep, Latin’s upper school choral director and vocal instructor.
“When he came to me, I was like, ‘Oh boy, here we go,’ ” Estep said. “Here’s this heavy rocker dude who’s going to come in and ruin this choral sound I’ve tried to build.”
Estep said he’s never been so pleased to be wrong. “It was the complete opposite. He was like a diamond in the rough.”
Areon left the band by the middle of junior year and absorbed Estep’s lessons.
“It was like a clean slate for how my voice would develop,” Areon said. “I started learning classical style – you know, drop the jaw and stuff.”
When Latin announced the next year’s musical would be “Les Miserables,” Estep nudged him to audition.
“I was thinking I was just going to be in the ensemble,” Areon said. Instead, he got the lead role.
“It’s almost unreal,” Estep said. He’s been teaching voice for 25 years. “I’ve never seen or known of a student this young, at the age of 17, who has the vocal understanding and the mature quality he’s got ... without any kind of training at all. ... It’s an amazing transformation.”
Taking on the role of Jean Valjean meant a lot of practicing.
“When I had free time at school, I’d go to a practice room and just sing. And sing and sing and sing. I drank a lot of water. I’d even sing while doing calculus homework.”
He said his singing voice continued to develop throughout the year as he worked on the part. “I sing ‘Bring Him Home’ differently now than I did in February,” he said.
His trip to the Jimmy Awards will be his first time in the Big Apple.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “I’m scared. I get scared when I realize why I’m going there. I was intimidated just going into ‘Les Mis’ and the Blumeys. This is the freaking national high school music theater awards. This is real. This is so real. A little too real. Just – whoa.”
Areon said he still plans to earn his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, but he’s less resolved now about medical school.
“At some point in my life,” he said, “I’ll go to New York and audition for a Broadway show.”
Eva, on the other hand, has been singing for as long as she can remember.
She got into Northwest School of the Arts for sixth grade. That’s when she saw her first musical and “it clicked,” she said.
She was put in a musical theater class. “I think that opened my eyes, knowing I can sing, act and dance all at the same time. It opened new doors, and I definitely dove in head first at the musical theater department, and I haven’t moved since.”
Eva won Best Actress in the lead role of Ariel in “Footloose,” her favorite school role (she’s had several). “I was really able to connect with her.”
Outside of school, Eva has performed in “Aladdin” at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, and she’s also worked alongside people a lot older at some of Central Piedmont Community College’s summer stock productions. She also likes to sing for special events, from the national anthem to live performances at restaurants.
Corey Mitchell, who directed “Footloose,” said he recalled thinking Eva was quiet but had a lot of potential.
He said she really began to blossom in eighth grade. “She came back with guns blazing and has just been a real tour-de-force ever since.”
Mitchell said he wasn’t surprised when her name was announced at the Blumeys.
“It’s rare that students who come by have that star quality,” he said. “I just watched Eva sitting down playing guitar and singing, and I said to her, ‘Honey, if you recorded that song and put it on YouTube, it would go viral.’ You sit there and watch her and you’re completely amazed by her.”
Eva, unlike her Blumey counterpart, has been to New York City several times and has been inspired by an aunt who used to perform on Broadway.
Eva said she’s particularly excited to be on Broadway at the Jimmys: “The place we are performing for the Jimmys in New York is the first Broadway theater I’ve ever been to, which is kind of surreal,” she said. “It’s a dream come true.”
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