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Music student Russell's voice carries her to spot on national stage

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Madison Russell’s best 21st birthday present was a gift she earned.

The vocal performance major was one of three runners-up in the American Pop Orchestra’s “NextGen National: Finding The Voices of Tomorrow” competition on Saturday, April 10.

The junior from Zachary, La., was among 11 students from colleges and universities who had sung their way to into the virtual competition.

The modest Russell, however, says Kelly Ann Bixby, an assistant professor of voice for the School of Music and Performing Arts, deserves a thank-you note. “She spent extra time with me on weekends helping me prepare.”

Russell earned a spot in the competition finals based on her virtual performance during the semifinal round in November. Thirty semifinalists made the cut based on recordings that were submitted to the American Pops Orchestra by college singers from around the country.

For the finals, Russell sang “Sunday, Monday or Always,” a 1940s song first made popular by Bing Crosby, and “The Label on the Bottle,” from the musical “The Gay Life.” Her renditions resulted in a paid performance with the American Pops Orchestra – and $500.

A panel of Broadway singers, casting agents, recording artists and viewers who registered to watch the livestream of the competition.

Before the competition, she explained exactly how she planned to spend any prize money should she finish in one of the top spots – participating in paid summer programs that enable talented burgeoning singers to tour with professional operas.

“There are national and international programs I’m interested in, including in Spain and Italy, that would be a great way to invest in my future,” she said.

Advancing to finals, however, had already made her a winner. Her showing in the semifinals put her name on a list of singers the American Pops Orchestra contacts for paid performances.

She’s was called upon twice to lend her high soprano voice to orchestra projects during the time period between the semifinals in November and the finals.

“There haven’t been many in-person opportunities yet because of COVID, but I’m hoping this becomes a regular thing because I’ve already gotten two chances to sing,” Russell said.

The performances are the byproduct of years of preparation.

Russell began singing in school choirs and performing in musical theater as a child, when she decided she wanted to become a professional singer.

At UL Lafayette, she’s a member of the School of Music and Performing Arts’ Chamber Singers and Chorale ensembles, and president of the Ragin’ Cajun Women’s Choir.

The affiliations have led to opportunities to work with – and learn from – guest musicians who have visited the University’s School of Music and Performing Arts. She has also performed with conductors from other countries.

Russell, who anticipates graduating next spring, envisions a career singing, then teaching at a college or university.

She is applying to graduate programs at some of the best schools in the country. Her focus in the classroom will be pedagogy, which is the method and practice of teaching.

“My plan at this point is to keep performing on my own and study voice anatomy and how the voice works so that I can teach with science as well as experience,” she said.

Photo caption: UL Lafayette vocal performance major Madison Russell is among 11 college singers who will compete in the finals of the American Pops Orchestra’s “NextGen National: Finding The Voices of Tomorrow” contest. It will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. CDT on Saturday, April 10. Viewers will register to receive a link that enables them to access the livestream and cast votes. Submitted photo