Like most annual events and milestones that should have happened for the past few months, the 2020 “Oh Say Can You Sing” contest was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike previous years, open audition calls that usually created long lines at local malls and gathering places had to be moved online. Out of the 160 contestants who submitted a virtual audition, 10 were selected for callbacks and then four were chosen as this year’s finalists.
Let’s meet the contenders for this year’s title.
Jemel Washington Cantres
Jemel’s love of music started at an early age, singing in the church choir, as well as his schools’ choirs and plays. “Music came very easy to me, to say the least,” he said. Jemel has performed in several community theaters across the country, performing musical plays. “To make the Top 4, I mean, I wasn’t prepared for it but I’m here and I’m so happy to be here where I am,” Cantres said.
Watch Jemel’s introduction video below.
Stand up and salute, Petty Officer Grace Layugan. This hospital corpsman, serving at Naval Station Mayport is originally from San Francisco but now proudly calls the Southside of Jacksonville home. “My passion came from when I was a little, little kid. I was about 4-years-old. I started singing around the house. My mom noticed right away that, ‘You know. My girl can carry a little tune.’” Grace is no stranger to singing competitions. While stationed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, she beat out more than 200 other shipmates to win “TR Idol."
Get to know more about her in her introductory video.
It’s been a long journey to Jacksonville for Karim. Born in Jordan and raised in Egypt, Zabaneh calls himself “Jor-gyptian”. He’s currently studying Communications and TV Production at the University of North Florida since coming to the United States in 2012. “I was six-years-old and I remember clearly, it was a school event about Mother’s Day. My professor asked me to sing a song with my brother. I forgot my cue. I forgot my song. I forgot my lyrics but after that my music professor found something in me,” Zabaneh said.
Learn more about Karim’s trek to the “Oh Say” stage in the video below.
This mother of three from Fleming Island is no stranger to singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. She’s been belting out our National Anthem around town for years. “I started singing when I was 16. I used to be a big tomboy. I played sports. I played volleyball and softball and finally, I was like, ‘You know what. I’m going to try this singing thing out,’” Thomas said.
Play video to hear more of Brooke’s story.
Tune into Channel 4 at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 25, for our “Oh Say Can You Sing” Finale to see each of our talented singers perform live. The show, from 1904 Music Hall, is presented by Papa John’s Pizza. You can cast the winning vote that night by going to news4jax.com/usay or download the News4Jax app on your smartphone or tablet.
The winner receives a $500 prize and the chance to sing the national anthem to kick of the July 4 fireworks on Channel 4’s “Red, White and Boom” Independence Day special.