Belleville teen shines on NJPAC stage

A budding entertainer from Belleville is beginning to build a “show biz” resume.

Belleville High School freshman Najalis Gual captured first place in the Junior Teen Vocal Category (ages 13 to 15) of the Hispanic Youth Showcase, the longest running Latino children’s talent show on PBS.

She did that by singing “California King Bed” by the pop star Rhianna while accompanying herself on piano at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on May 23.

Najalis was one of four finalists culled from a field of competitors from the tri-state area in that age grouping.

The teen, whose name was “up in lights” on the BHS digital marquee, was awarded a $200 scholarship, a trophy and an opportunity to perform at Six Flags Great Adventure.

At the NJPAC, she was exposed to major performing artist talent scouts who could, potentially, invite her to be part of TV shows or musical performances in the future.

In the meantime, Najalis was “booked” last week for an appearance on the BHS public television studio, singing and playing the piano.

PBS, meanwhile, will be coming to BHS to film Najalis to demonstrate how the student manages to balance her scholastic studies with the performing arts. No date has yet been announced for the TV shoot.

After her performance at the NJPAC, Najalis said: “I was surprised to hear my name being announced as the first place winner of a very difficult category. I hope to continue pursuing opportunities to advance my performing career.” Now in its 28th year, the Hispanic Youth Showcase is an Emmy award winning theater/TV special organized by Executive Producer/Director William Q. Sanchez whose mission is to open doors of opportunity for Latino youth, ages 4 to 17, on PBS’s TV series, “Images/Imagenes.”

Said Sanchez: “Najalis is amazing. Her performance skills are on the professional level and could certainly take her far in life.”

Former Showcase participants have been nominated for Emmy and Grammy awards and have worked on major soap operas, national commercials, top Broadway musicals, Hollywood films and have performed at such venues as Radio City Music Hall, Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden.

Two-time Showcase winner Caitlin Sanchez, for example, was the voice of Dora the Explorer.

Showcase participants – and past winners – include special needs children. One of this year’s entries is a wheel-chairbound 9-year-old participating in the junior vocal category.

Najalis’s mother, Marilyn Gual, said: “Actually seeing my daughter win was amazing, and I am really proud of her and her courage to perform in public …. I am extremely grateful for individuals such as William Sanchez for creating forums such as the Hispanic Youth Showcase which creates opportunities for youth in the community to participate.”

 – Ron Leir

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