New York's famed Apollo Theatre's amateur talent contest that had helped the likes of Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin launch their musical career saw a 17-year-old Indian American girl win second place last month beating 11 other hopefuls.
Ashlee Madhukar, who sings pop, and gospel and has written and composed 15 songs in pop style, won second place, singing Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You'.
Amateur night that begins early January and ends around late October has been a long time tradition of the Apollo dating back to 1934. Every Wednesday night, upcoming artists of every kind -- dance, singing, comedic -- have been given the chance to showcase their talents and be judged by an audience.
Artists to grace the stage are chosen through strict audition and the number of contestants in each art form varies each week depending on how many artists receive the opportunity though on an average 10 to 15 people included.
"I am very blessed and thankful for the opportunity to be able to sing at this famous hall. Many world famous artists have had their start here or have walked through at some point and time in their career. I aspire to be another one of those artists, who were given the same opportunity I was given and use it to its full potential," Ashley, who was born in New York to Indian American parents and now live in Florida, told rediff.com in a brief interview.
"It really means a lot and I'm thankful to have it as part of my foundation. It opened a lot of doors for me. I was blessed to be at the right place at the right time to receive the connections I did," she said.
By her own admission she is not the kind of person who thinks about winning competitions, rather giving a good performance wherever she sings. She said she was so pleased with her performance that at the time of the performance on July 8 she almost forgot she had to go back from the stage to be judged.
Adding to her happiness was the band accompanying her, which, she said, was "just impeccable" and followed her perfectly. "I love when I can work live with musicians, especially when they are good. Overall, it was putting on a good performance that concerned me than the prize," Ashley, who is a soprano, said.
This is not the first time that Ashley, whose nick name is Asha got exposure on the big stage. Three years ago she performed at the Carnegie Hall in New York with her school choir. Two years ago she was accepted into the prestigious 200-member All National Choir, a competitive choral group composed of the most talented singers in the US.
Besides being a singer Ashlee is a songwriter, composer, actress and a violinist. She has been playing violin since the age of three and gave her first solo performance at a Christmas service when she was 6-years-old.
At the age of 15 she was the soloist accompanied by more than 100 member choir at the coral ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Along with her 12-year-old sister Hannah and her cousin Jyothy Thomas, she was the main entertainer at the Miss Florida Asia beauty pageant held at North Miami, Florida in 2008. Ashlee frequently performs for the US soldiers at the Miami Veterans Administration.
She played major roles in Broadway musicals like Annie and Little Women at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Although she graduated from Westminster Academy High School this year in high honors and plans to do Business Administration, her real ambition is to be become a singer.
"I definitely want to pursue music as a career, because that is where my passion lies. I have absolutely no complaints. I love who I am and I love what I do," she said.
"The future holds a lot of uncertainty in a very positive way. I'm not sure exactly what it holds, but God continues to open new doors for me everyday. I am coming out with a remake of 'One Step at a Time' by famous singer/song writer Jordin Sparks and plan to start touring schools and churches once the song is done," she said.
Why the remake?
"We will add an Indian touch of beat to this song in pop style for the mainstream audience," she said.
Ashley, whose father hails from Hyderabad and mother from Ernakulum, performed in Hyderabad and Secunderabad during a tour last year.