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Singing Her Heart Out:  Voices for Hope
Contest Gives Local Singer a Shot at Broadway

By Erica Gradecki
Published on 7/6/2006
    Ledyard - Singing in front of a large audience is no sweat for 13-year-old Rachelle Seney, since she has been “singing for as long as she could talk,” according to her mother, Jeanne.

So, when Seney was chosen by a group of judges to sing with the cast of “Brooklyn the Musical,” one of the longest-running Broadway shows of the season, Seney sang her heart out.

“I wasn't really nervous,” Seney said after performing at the Bushnell Center for Performing Arts in Hartford last Sunday. “When I sang the song, I didn't notice it was me (at first). I could hear the speakers more than my voice, and it was a lot bigger (than I expected).”

The song, “Heart Behind These Hands,” was the introductory song, as well as the final number, for the show. Before the finale was performed, Diana DeGarmo, who was a former 2004 American Idol runner-up and played the lead character “Brooklyn” in the musical, introduced Seney and explained the Voices for Hope competition, the contest that gave her the chance to sing with the cast of “Brooklyn.”

Voices for Hope is a partnership administered by the Local United Network to Combat Hunger (LUNCH) in Mystic and New Generations Ministries in Hartford. Both groups merged with “Brooklyn the Musical” and the Bushnell in Hartford to help raise money to fight hunger and homelessness.

Entrants paid $50 and submitted a tape or CD demo recording. The money collected from the entrants will be used as funds toward local area organizations, including the Covenant Shelter of New London, the Harvest Home in Westerly, the New Generations' food pantry and breakfast program and the Katie Blair House in Norwich. According to Bill Pere, founder and executive director of LUNCH, approximately $3,000 was raised in a three-week period for the cause.

“There were 52 entries, from as far away as New Jersey and Texas,” Pere said.

Pere also said that the organizations plan on doing another contest in the future, with different formats, organizations and prizes.

For the competition, Seney, who ranges between a soprano and alto, submitted the song “A Change in Me,” a Broadway song from “Beauty and the Beast.”

“We try to keep this as an experience, and that whatever happens, happens,” said Seney's mom, Jeanne.

The judging for the competition was a three-tier process, with all contestants judged first by local music leaders. Twenty-five semifinalists were then narrowed down to 15 by the director of “Brooklyn,” Jeff Calhoun, music supervisor John McDaniel, and local gospel singer DJ, Jason Norfleet. The 15 finalists gave a live performance at the Bushnell in front of Pere and his wife, Kay, as well as an agent from New York and L.A.'s top talent agencies in early June.

“I was called back that afternoon,” Seney said after her live performance in front of the judges.

Seney, and seven other winners and two alternates were chosen, each having the opportunity to sing with the cast of “Brooklyn” on separate nights between June 20 and June 25.

“Upon hearing the initial submissions of all the entrants, one of the judges noted about Rachelle,” Pere said. “(They said), 'She is my favorite ... a beautiful voice and perfect pitch.'

“Rachelle has been with LUNCH and a voice student of my wife, Kay, since she was in fifth grade (and) it has been wonderful to see her develop her music talents in the last three years,” Pere added. “Both Kay and I were there (to see her perform) and we were incredibly proud of her. She looked very relaxed on stage, with a big smile, and when she sang, her voice was strong and crystal clear.”

Seney enjoyed the play, which is about “a group of street-corner storytellers who tell the story of a young girl searching for fame and the father she never knew.”

“It was serious and humorous,” Seney said when she saw the show. “I was crying.”

As far as Seney's future, she hopes to perform on Broadway again or become a chorus director.

“I want to do something where I would go 'Woooo!' or have fun and be someone else,” Seney said with a laugh.

This fall, Seney will be a freshman and member of the concert choir at Ledyard High School. She will also be recording a few special songs with the other finalists for a Voices for Hope compilation CD, set to release next year.

“She surely has a bright future,” Pere said. “Rachelle always lights up the room when she walks in – she has a great attitude and is a real team player. I wish we could clone her.”

For more information on Voices for Hope, visit or


Originally Published July 6,  2006, The Mystic Times

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