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Lip sync battle raises big bucks for kids and the arts

Randi B. Hagi

A nonprofit that supports live arts experiences for local kids held their annual fundraiser on Wednesday night – a lip sync battle. Randi B. Hagi reports.

[backstage sounds]

Performers and support staff ran around a huge indoor turf field at Horizon's Edge Sport Campus Wednesday night, getting ready for the 2021 Lip Sync Battle in the 'Burg – an event where teams of costumed lip-synchers dance, flaunt, and gyrate for their chance to win the most audience votes – and raise the most money –

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Tim and Emani Morse with J.R. Snow after their Beyonce performance.

J.R. SNOW: … for Any Given Child Shenandoah Valley, which is a nonprofit organization focusing on access and equity in the arts for students in grades K through 8.

J.R. Snow directs the nonprofit.

SNOW: We focus on live – what we call live arts experiences, which allows either artists to come into the schools… or we're taking kids to venues.

There were six contestants, each with their own crew of dancers and stagehands. While the stars of the show were getting their makeup done and wrangling their teams, I caught up with a few backup dancers before the show began.

Makayla Escobar and Chloe Leach, students at Spotswood High School, were there with their music teacher, Nathan May. They wouldn't give away too much about their upcoming performance.

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Tim Troyer getting ready for his portrayal of Lady Gaga.

MAKAYLA ESCOBAR: I can tell you that it's very energetic, and it's …

CHLOE LEACH: Yeah, it's like a kind of throwback, but it's about –

ESCOBAR: The best throwbacks.

LEACH: The best of the best.

Tim Morse and Darin Council were there to back up Tim's wife, contestant Emani Morse. They each had a bit of experience in front of crowds.

MORSE: Like, I grew up in the church, so choir and plays and stuff like that, and it's always been kind of fun, so if you rope me into it, I'll do it!

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Emani Morse performing Beyonce.

COUNCIL: That's fair! A little bit of musical performance. I did band all through middle school and high school, a little bit in college. Also did track, so people showing up in large spaces isn't too, too unfamiliar.

Snow opened the show to an enthusiastic crowd.

SNOW It is Lip Sync Battle 2021! It's been 753 days since we've done this – are you guys ready to party tonight? [cheers]

Contestant Kristen Drueen and her crew kicked off round one in old-timey sailor's outfits, shimmying to Christina Aguilera's ‘Candyman.’

[‘Candyman,’ crowd cheers]

Credit Randi B. Hagi
J.R. Snow as emcee.

Most of the contestants went with multi-artist mashups for their performances, including Nathan May and his students, who fit 10 male pop artists into their first round.

[‘Mr. Brightside’ by The Killers fades into ‘Yeah!’ by Usher, crowd screams]

There were also big cheers for contestant Tim Troyer, who performed a Lady Gaga compilation – in drag – complete with Colt 45 malt liquor cans as hair rollers.

[‘Born this Way’ by Lady Gaga, crowd cheers]

Leading up to the event, supporters could buy votes for a dollar each – that's the main way contestants fundraised. The night of, attendees could vote for free as many times as they could smash that button during intermission. I stopped by a table where Crystal Pennington and her friends were on their phones –

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Nathan May embodying one of the kings of pop from his mashup.

CRYSTAL PENNINGTON: We're voting for Team Priscilla! Because she's awesome! And we're her great friends, and that's what we do for her.

Nearby, Paul Riner said he voted for Stanley Peyton.

PAUL RINER: It's fun to watch him onstage, which is totally out of character for him. But he seems to be having a good time.

In the second and final round, there were two Beyonce compilations – in one, Emani and Tim Morse played off one another as Queen Bey and Jay-Z.  

[‘Crazy in Love’ plays, crowd cheers.]

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Stanley Peyton performing SexyBack.

Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed, who was judging round two, was a fan.

DEANNA REED: I don't know if anybody worked at On the Road this entire month, because everybody was up here… [cheers]

…Reed is one of the directors of The On the Road Collaborative, which partners with local schools to create leadership and opportunity programs for young people…

REED: …Emani, you did a fabulous job. Well done.

The two lip-synchers vying for first place were Stanley Peyton, who came out of intermission with more than 10,000 votes, and Priscilla May-Maiden, with almost 14,000 votes. Peyton started out with Michael Jackson's ‘Smooth Criminal,’ white fedora and all –

[music up]

And transitioned into Justin Timberlake's ‘SexyBack,’ tossing fake chains and some items of clothing into the crowd.

[crowd screaming]

May-Maiden's finale was a dance mix on a virtual classroom set, complete with a giant computer screen.

[‘Gangnam Style’ by PSY]

SNOW: Priscilla, you also are a teacher in real life. And so talk a bit about that experience as a teacher, and then kind of turning this into crazy creativity.

MAY-MAIDEN: I mean, I kind of have always had to entertain my kids in the classroom, and so this really wasn't a big jump.

Finally, voting was closed, and Snow revealed the night's winner.

REED: It's tight. Oh, is it tight tight?

SNOW: It's tight. In second place, with 28,548 votes – to the first place, 33,329 votes. In second place, Stanley Peyton and your winner tonight, Priscilla May-Maiden!

[cheers, confetti guns popping]

The event raised more than $48,000 for Any Given Child.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.