More than a dozen young voices singing “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” filled Benson’s W.J. Barefoot Auditorium last week.
Next up came “How to Build a Snowman,” also from “Frozen,” and later “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood and “Diana” by One Direction.
The eclectic mix of songs came from the kids, who got to choose what they wanted to sing. Ages 6-14, they were there for a vocal camp hosted by local singer Amanda Daughtry.
Daughtry said she held the free singing camp to give back to her home county. Growing up in the Cleveland community didn’t give her many opportunities for singing lessons, she said. Now that she’s a professional singer in Nashville, she wanted to help kids with music.
Each camper performed a solo at least twice each day. Daughtry would stand off to the side and come over to help as needed, singing along to some parts and clapping the beat. She also led campers in warm-up exercises, taught them how to move between their chest voice and head voice, and showed them how to keep their vocal chords safe.
Daughtry focused on nerves too. Often, she’d get the campers to relax before singing by having them wiggle their arms or imagine the audience with fish-heads.
“Stand up and be proud of yourself; you’re on stage,” Daughtry told one girl.
“You’re singing, you’re presenting yourself to the world,” she said while encouraging another.
And when students struggled with a song, she told them to not fret about the audience. “Don’t worry about what you sound like,” she said. Just worry about the pitch and beat.
During each stage performance, the other campers would sit in the auditorium’s seats and listen, tapping their feet along with the song. Afterward, they would clap and cheer.
Anna Gurkin, 12, of Erwin said loves to sing but usually gets nervous up on stage. “I knew camp would help me feel less nervous,” she said.
Her favorite part of the camp was performing in front of all her new friends. “It’s just really fun to do, and you get to show your talent,” Anna said.
Lauren Pope, 12, of Benson said she too suffered from stage fright. “I was always nervous singing,” she said. “I figured (Amanda) would help me not be afraid.”
Halfway through the weeklong camp, Lauren was already feeling better about singing in front of crowds. “She has us sing a lot in front of people, so you just kind of get used to it,” Lauren said. “She knows what you’re dealing with because she’s been through the same thing.”
One of Daughtry’s goals was to teach the campers how to be confident. “ The 6-year-olds are fearless,” she said. But the 10- and 11-year-olds were never; the teenagers even more so. “It’s like the older they get, they’re scared of mistakes,” she said.
Tori Langdon, 11, of Raleigh came to camp to overcome her stage fright and learn about her vocal chords. “I needed help because I didn’t know how to test my voice,” she said.
Tori also liked getting to meet and sing with new people. “It’s really great that (Amanda) helps one on one with everybody, and she works on skills we need to accomplish being a singer,” she said.
Daughtry explained that the voice is a muscle, and just like going to the gym to get stronger, the campers would need to exercise their voices.
Daughtry exposed her campers to more than singing, having them write their own jingles one day. “Their love for music doesn’t have to stop at their vocal ability or at their ability to play an instrument,” she said. ”There’s so many things you can do with music.”
Daughtry’s favorite part was watching the older kids help the younger ones. She saw herself in some of the young singers too. “It’s amazing to see their talent level,” she added.
More than 400 people applied for the 25 spots, Daughtry said. The camp ended Saturday with a recital for parents.
Daughtry hopes to hold two camps next year, one for beginners and one for intermediate singers. To learn more, visit her website at amandadaughtry.com.