High heels and sequined gowns at the ready, Akira Kennedy is eager to join her fellow show choir members in a friendly battle.
About 16 show choir groups from throughout the Midwest will compete Saturday, Feb. 18, when Naperville North High School hosts the invitational Clash of the Sequins 2017.
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Student show choir performers will sing and dance in girls' groups and mixed groups.
"It's so rewarding," said Kennedy, a senior who has been in show choir since she was a freshman. "The people you meet and the connections you make bring you back every year."
Kennedy is president of Naperville North's girls' group, High Heeled Harmony. Of her group's five performance pieces, the ballad titled "The Heart of the Matter" is her favorite, she said. A hit for Don Henley in 1990, Kennedy is especially inspired by artist India Arie's 2006 cover version of the song.
"It's a really awesome piece. It's more of a vulnerable song, so we sing with a lot of emotion," she said. "Performance is not just voice. We work on a lot of expressions, too."
Naperville North hosted its first Clash of the Sequins last year in the school's auditorium. Already the event has outgrown that venue, said Nick Janssen, director of vocal music and the instructional coordinator of the Fine Arts Department.
"This year it's in the field house. We can accommodate up to 4,000 people," he said.
Janssen said show choirs from Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois will be at the event, along with performers and volunteers from Naperville Central High School, the School of Performing Arts. and community theater and choir programs.
Show choir numbers typically feature dozens of performers, extravagant costumes and, sometimes, elaborate theatrics.
"We're not just providing them an education, we have to provide them an experience," he said of his students. "These kids work so hard. I want them to walk onto that stage and feel like they are Beyoncé for the day."
Both the girls' group and the mixed group, Entourage, perform in a variety of musical styles such as disco, Broadway show tunes, and popular music like Michael Jackson hits. Live music is provided by a group of 20 student instrumentalists who play brass, guitar, drums and synthesizers.
Janssen said judges include show choir directors, professional choreographers and costume designers, and vocal coaches.
"We have judges from all over the country traveling here for this," he said.
Last year, the Naperville North show choir groups competed in four contests -- one in Indiana, one in Iowa and two in Illinois -- winning Grand Champion honors more than once. At the Choral Classic at Wheaton Warrenville South, the girls' and mixed groups placed fourth overall.
"(Last year's Choral Classic) was one of those that drew many top show choirs, one of them from L.A. People from all over the country road tripped to see this competition because the schedule was so stacked with great groups. It was really the first time our kids 'played with the big dogs,'" said Anita Mraz, Clash of the Sequins co-chair.
Mraz got involved when her daughter Amber, a 2016 Naperville North graduate, joined the group as a freshman.
"She loved it. It was by far her favorite thing she's ever done," Mraz said.
The appeal of show choir is widespread, she said.
"It's very big in the Midwest, in Texas, California and a smattering of other places," she said. "The majority of groups travel to three to six competitions a year."
Mraz said the shows are fundraisers for show choirs, raising money to help cover costs for costumes and travel.
She said Janssen teaches performance while fostering a sense of community and helping students learn social skills.
"Nick is big on giving kids leadership. He forces them to get out of their comfort zone," she said. "He does an amazing job of creating a safe environment for the kids."
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