City Beat: Azusa Dance performs in Apollo Theater showcase

Azusa Dance

Singing at the Apollo Theater in New York City is not supposed to cause bruising, is it?

Ever since Azusa Dance got the opportunity to audition for the right to compete in the annual Amateur Night at the legendary theater, she's had black and blue spots on her arms and legs. The marks have nothing to do with the building or the singing, however.

photo Barry Courter

"I'm so excited, I keep pinching myself," she says, the absolute joy in her voice coming through the phone lines.

"It was absolutely amazing. I wake up and think, 'Did I really sing at the Apollo?'"

Dance, who moved to New York from Chattanooga about a year ago for the second time, had never been inside the historic theater, but decided last February to go for the audition. The city had just had a snowstorm and the temperature outside was about 10 degrees. When she arrived, the line of people hoping to audition wrapped around the building.

"Only 500 get to audition, and you can't tell how many are there to actually try out," she says. "Some are there with family, or they are in groups. I thought about leaving because it was so cold, but then I got No. 226 and I thought, 'Oh, this is really going to happen.'"

It did happen, but not quickly. She got inside the building around 9:30 a.m. and didn't get to sing until around 6:30 that night. For her number, she chose Big Mama Thornton's version of "Hound Dog." Most people know the Elvis version, but Thornton did it first in 1952.

Dance ended up getting an 83 percent approval rating from the audience, which qualified her to come back on June 16. She made it past that round and will sing again on July 6. The finals will be in September. First prize is $10,000 and a recording contract.

Dance says she can choose to do the Thornton song again or pick something different. The Apollo crowd is primarily tourists, she says, so there is little chance of overplaying her hand.

Dance says she also just finished performing in a children's musical and recently signed with a manager and an agent for film, TV and theater work.

"I'm just so excited I can't put it into words," she says.

* WNOO-AM 1260 co-owner Jeanette Clear, 65, died on June 15. She and husband Lee Clear bought the station in 2006 and were in the process of purchasing the 107.3 frequency to simulcast the WNOO programming beginning later this summer.

WNOO has been broadcasting since the 1950s and is the only black-owned station in the city.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.