Amina Faye was standing on the red carpet outside Minskoff Theatre in New York City, over 600 miles from her home in Monroe. She was about to make her Broadway debut at 18.
In just a few hours, she would be named best actress at the Jimmy Awards, a national competition of student actors that awards a $10,000 scholarship and gets lots of attention from the theater world.
She was the first person to achieve this honor from the Charlotte-based Blumey Awards through the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.
The National High School Musical Theatre Awards, known as the Jimmy Awards for fabled producer James Nederlander, take place each July at a Broadway theater.
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Faye beat out hundreds of students just to get here, spent two weeks away from her family and rehearsed everyday, all day. She now faced 61 competitors.
“She has the confidence that you have to have to stand on that center stage,” said Howard McGillin, who played the title role in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway and mentored Faye at the Jimmys.
She took the stage not expecting to win. She hadn’t even written a speech.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” she said.
That night she met Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the most famous modern Broadway composers.
In an interview with Playbill before the Jimmy Awards, Faye asked one of her role models, this year’s Tony Award-winner Cynthia Erivo from “The Color Purple,” how she kept it “genuine” on the stage.
On the day of the performance, Erivo answered in the article: “Hello Amina, I do it all with the help of an incredible cast, determination, and a stubborn nature that won't allow me not to at least try to do it all!! Something tells me you might be the same!!! Much luck at Penn State!!”
“All these wonderful things were happening, and the excitement had me going,” Faye said.
“I was glad the hard part was over.”
The road to the Jimmys
Faye grew up singing and loving the theater. She would watch the Jimmy Awards every year, her eyes glued to the screen of her laptop.
But she never thought she would reach them. She didn’t even consider acting as a possible career option.
That changed at Central Academy of Technology and Arts in Monroe. Faye went from watching Broadway shows to realizing she had the potential to be in one.
“It is a really competitive business and has to be something you’re sure of,” she said.
She auditioned for her school’s musical in the ninth grade. It was during her junior year that her aspirations really took off.
Faye was cast as the baker’s wife in “Into the Woods,” a musical based on popular fairy tales.
It was this role that really helped her develop as an actress. Her school entered the Blumeys, but Faye did not win best actress in this role.
She thought she would never reach The Jimmy Awards.
But the director of the Blumey Awards, Michelle Youngs, said there was a confidence that seemed to set Faye apart.
Faye knew she’d face tough competition at the Blumeys. The 2013 winner, Eva Noblezada, finished as one of five runners-up at the Jimmy Awards and went on to star in “Miss Saigon” in London.
The next year, Faye was cast as Sarah in “Ragtime,” a musical about three families at the turn of the 20th century. That is the role that got her to the Jimmys.
Faye said it was sometimes hard to seem natural in the role. But the challenge helped her make the role seem authentic.
“You never want people to think you are acting,” she said.
Youngs said Faye’s performance was spectacular, displaying real growth from the previous year.
“The power she showed in that role and the confidence she had – I knew that she won it,” Youngs said.
‘The hard part’
Faye said on the night of the awards, June 27, she was surprisingly calm. The journey to this point had been a long one.
“Our schedules were really tight,” she said.
Preparing for the Jimmys required her to be awake before 7 a.m. for morning yoga in preparation for the day. Breakfast would be served, and then the contestants were off to rehearsal.
Sixty-two contestants auditioned to be in one of two groups: production and medley.
Faye was placed into the medley.
The first part of the performance was a mash-up of different songs and characters, including ones from “Hamilton” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Then each person prepared a solo.
Each was assigned a mentor from Broadway. Faye’s mentor, McGillin, who will be in an upcoming production of “My Fair Lady,” offered advice, coaching and support.
As the final day got closer, the performers became more comfortable. They were starting to show their full potential.
“I was amazed at the level of talent,” McGillin said.
Faye plans to attend Penn State in the fall, which was her top choice. She wants to study performing arts and continue her acting career.
“I want to be in ‘The Color Purple’ really bad.”
Tyler Fleming: 704-358-5355, @tyler_fleming96