Joshua Ham took his first step toward following in the footsteps of Billie Holiday, James Brown and Michael Jackson when he scored an audition at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem.
As he stood before the judges on the Apollo stage, Joshua was told he had one shot, so bring his best.
Unfortunately, Joshua, a 15-year-old sophomore at Mount Zion Christian Academy, started out his song too high. The next few notes were going to be even higher, and he wasn’t sure he could go that high.
“I was like, ‘I am sorry about that. Can I restart?’” Joshua said at the September 2014 audition. The two judges said yes.
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Apollo representatives called him a month later and asked him to appear in the Amateur Night Child Star of Tomorrow competition, which he won July 22. Joshua, who sings gospel songs, is set to compete again on the Apollo stage again Wednesday, Sept. 9.
Joshua’s road to the Apollo stage started with him following in most of his nine brothers’ and sisters’ footsteps and joining the Mount Zion Christian Church children’s choir the Little Angels of God at age 6.
“It was just something we did,” said Joshua, who is the second from the youngest in the family.
Joshua said he has always liked singing. He likes the sound, the harmony and the way it can pull him into his own space.
“When I listen to soft gospel, it is a way to meditate on God,” he said.
He graduated to the adult choir at 13. Over the years, he was given solos and traveled to different churches and organizations to sing. The performances helped him to tame his stage fright and connect to his audiences.
Joshua is also the grandson of gospel singer Charles Johnson, a member of Charles Johnson and the Revivers and The Sensational Nightingales. Johnson died about a month after Joshua’s audition.
In April 2014, Joshua’s dad, Joseph Ham, signed his son up to audition for a talent show at the Hayti Heritage Center. About three years ago, Next Level Veterans Outreach Campus, a Durham nonprofit that helps veterans, created “Amateur Night Live: The Road to the Apollo Tour” modeled on and sanctioned by the Apollo’s Amateur Night competition. Winners of the adult and children’s competition win a trip to New York and a chance to audition at the Apollo Theater.
Joshua competed three times at Hayti before winning the championship trophy in August 2014.
Nine people from the competition traveled to New York to audition at the Apollo the following September, said Captain Newborn, executive director of Next Level Veterans Outreach, including Precious Boyd of Roxboro, who placed second in the children’s competition at Hayti the year Joshua competed.
While others have successfully passed the audition stage at the Apollo, Joshua and his “silky smooth voice” was the first to win, Newborn said.
“We are so proud of Joshua and the talent that we are finding,” Newborn said.
To prepare for his Apollo debut, Joshua worked with a voice coach, who helped him improve his range and enunciate his words. Joshua and his dad went to K&G Fashion Superstore in Raleigh and purchased a basic, shiny suit. And then a tailor added new buttons and red on the pockets, cuffs and collar.
“He got a lot of compliments on the suit,” Joseph Ham said.
On July 22, Joshua returned to the Apollo at 3:30 p.m. to rehearse with the band. Then he went back to the hotel, had some hot chicken noodle soup for dinner and changed into his suit. He returned to the theater at 6:45 p.m.
When Joshua arrived, the theater was already packed.
He competed against three others, including Boyd, and was the last person to perform.
After everyone sang, the competitors returned to the stage and the moderator put one hand over their heads to measure the applause and shouts from the audience. Joshua was declared the winner after receiving a measure of 97.
“They said, second to Michael Jackson, that was the highest score at the Apollo,” Joseph Ham said. “That was exciting to hear.”
To prepare for Wednesday night, Joshua has been practicing his song, “Because of Who You Are,” over and over again.
“And imagining I am on the stage, right then, all the crowd staring at me,” he said.
See this year’s champion competition
Following a 20-week “Amateur Night Live: The Road to The Apollo Tour,” winners from the various cities will come to Durham this month to compete in the Festival of Champions at the Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Fayetteville St., for a chance to win a trip to New York and to audition at the Apollo Theater.
The children’s championship will be held Sept. 13. The adults’ championship will be held Sept. 20. Both shows starts at 6 p.m. Admission to the children’s competition is $15. Admission to the adults’ competition is $20.
The shows will be broadcast later by the Launch TV Network, a satellite company channel.
Watch him sing
To see Joshua Ham’s performance at the Apollo Theater go to http://bit.ly/1UwS9U0.