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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Madison Russell is among 30 college singers chosen to compete in the American Pops Orchestra’s “NextGen: The Voices of Tomorrow” contest.

The virtual event will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. CST on Saturday, Nov. 21. Performances will be judged by a panel of Broadway singers, recording artists and contest viewers who cast votes.

Russell is a junior from Zachary, La., majoring in vocal performance. She earned a spot in the semifinal round of the competition by recording a video that she sent to the American Pops Orchestra last month.

Russell said she is relishing the opportunity to compete against students from some of the best music programs in the country, including the Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, and New England Conservatory of Music.

“If I win it would give me a huge opportunity. I’d get to perform in Washington D.C., with a really well-known orchestra.”

Ten finalists will be chosen as part of the competition. The finalists are tentatively scheduled to perform with the American Pops Orchestra sometime this spring, depending on COVID-19 considerations. An overall winner, a male runner-up, and a female runner-up will earn scholarships and a paid performance with the orchestra.

It’s the sort of role Russell has been preparing for since kindergarten. That’s when she joined her church choir – and found an outlet for singing that began as a toddler. “My mom always jokes that I could sing before I could talk. She would hear me babbling musically.”

As she grew up, Russell sang in school choirs, performed in musical theater shows, and attended music conferences. She didn’t start thinking about making singing a career, however, until she was in high school.

“I never really knew music was the path I was going to take until I got older. I kept auditioning for things and getting more and more opportunities. That made me realize music might be something I could actually pursue,” Russell said.

She’s continued honing her craft at UL Lafayette. Russell is a member of the School of Music and Performing Arts’ Chamber Singers, Chorale, and Ragin’ Cajun Women’s Choir. She is president of all three ensembles.

The affiliations have provided opportunities to work with – and learn from – guest musicians who have visited the University’s School of Music and Performing Arts. Russell has also performed with conductors from other countries when the UL Lafayette Chamber Singers perform with the Acadia Symphony Orchestra.

“I can’t even count the number of cool opportunities we get to work with musicians from around the world. It’s been really great,” Russell said.

She also values – and plans to use – what she’s picking up in the classroom. She’s learned how to write music, for example, and is studying pedagogy, which is the method and practice of teaching.

Russell plans to earn graduate and doctoral degrees, and eventually teach at a college or university. But first she has other ideas.

“I want to stick with performance while my voice is still young and healthy. Once I graduate, I’m going to move to New York to start gigging,” she said.

Learn more about the American Pops Orchestra’s “NextGen: The Voices of Tomorrow” competition and how to register to watch.

Photo caption: UL Lafayette’s Madison Russell is among 30 college singers chosen to compete in the American Pops Orchestra’s “NextGen: The Voices of Tomorrow” contest. It will be held at 7 p.m. CST on Saturday, Nov. 21. Submitted photo