The loud pitch of a Miley Cyrus pop song blasts through the closed door of a performance studio in the historic Lee building downtown. Piano notes accompany the lyrics, leading five aspiring songstresses to their musical destiny. The middle-school girls are in the midst of one of Next Radical Generation’s weekly rehearsals.
For the past five years, the Plant City-based group has been entertaining audiences with singing and choreographed dance numbers at Tampa Bay events, including many in Plant City. The members of the middle-school group are considered somewhat of newcomers to the scene.
They are learning the ropes. They do yoga before every practice to increase stamina. They are learning how to hit the right notes, emulate the style of industry divas and count out the steps to their routines. And they couldn’t have done it without NRG’s founding members.
Only four remain. Once baby-faced and bright-eyed sixth graders, Arie Fry, Ashtyn Steele, Emmy Menia and Bryson Keel are 16-year-old Plant City High School students. They’re looking at colleges, focusing on Advanced Placement classes, driving.
The time has come to retire.
“I’m devastated, honestly,” Steele says.
Sitting in the second-floor lounge, they are crammed onto a couch that should only sit two. The playful tones from the first-floor practice room meander up the stairs and into their ears. Steele says the last song they will sing is Hannah Montana’s “I Will Always Remember You.” Her mother breaks into tears.
“I’ve practiced it five times, and I am still crying,” Steele said.
But as the group’s general manager, Yvonne Fry, says, there is a season for everything.
The members will pass the baton off to the younger generation at a community talent show Friday, May 15.
The group has been busy gathering audition tapes from as far away as Celebration. The show has three age groups: elementary, middle and high schools. There will be a winner from each division and an overall winner.
The founding members will perform three songs and show a music video as part of their goodbye concert. But they’re leaving more behind than just a few fancy dance moves. They are looking to grow NRG by investing in the existing members who are part of the middle-school group and NRG Juniors, the elementary group.
The younger participants of NRG will be ushering, taking tickets and running the show to learn about the production side of the business.
And they are also using the talent show as a recruiting program to look for the next big talent.
“It has been a great experience for my girls,” mother Deana Moorman says.
Her twin daughters, Julee and Jamee, just got out of practice downstairs and are laughing and talking with the other juniors in the hallway. Julee likes doing the splits, and Jamee’s favorite song is “Party in the USA.”
“I put them in this to have stage presence, not to be scared, because that is a life skill,” Moorman says. “They’ve gained lots of experience. (Organizers) believe in them and give them a chance to be on stage. And they keep it positive.”
“I really like the family feel I get with the group,” Hannah Edge, one of the middle-school performers, said.
And that’s one of the biggest reasons why it is so hard for the last remaining founding members to leave. Menia lives in Celebration. She won’t get to see the others as often anymore. And gone are the days of traveling the country. NRG has performed in New York City, been on television news shows and recorded in the famous Brandon-based Polysound Recording Studios.
But they are ready to watch the next generation grow under their tutelage. Some advice: hit the notes; work hard, practice hard; show personality on stage.
Perform each performance as if it is your last.
“They’re leaving the legacy,” Fry said. “They’re leaving in style, they’re leaving on their terms.”
The Fifth Member
Jacob Cothren has been with NRG since the beginning. But he’s not on stage. He works on the technical side, setting up the sound booth and running the mechanics of the show. He will be staying on to continue teaching a fifth grader the secrets he’s learned over the past five years.
“When I leave in two years, there has to be someone who knows what to do,” Cothren says.
“He’s just as important as these four,” Donna Keel, stage mother, said. “He doesn’t always get recognition because he’s not out front, but they couldn’t do it without him.”
Don’t Miss the Show
When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 15
Where: Plant City Entertainment, 101 N. Thomas St.
Tickets: $12 for general admission; $20 for reserved seating.