It was an unusually warm October day as I climbed the mountainous steps of Fresno High with co-blogger and photographer Eva. We entered the foyer of the large auditorium, introduced ourselves to the crew at the registration table, and asked for Nathaniel Levingston. Hearing his name echo through the halls, a smiling face pops over the second-story railing. “Hold on. I’ll be right down,” Nathaniel shouts slightly out of breath. Eva and I comb the scene, soaking it all in. There isn’t a flood a media or even a mob of American-Idol-inspired teens lined up, but there is something special in the air.
It’s the morning of the Light It Up audition and casting call, and what I’m sensing is passion and hard work. Most dreams start with a vision and a lot of grass roots efforts, which is exactly what was on display here.
“Hey, guys,” Nathaniel says as he shakes our hands. He’s been in the trenches with his I Manage Stars (IMS) team moving tables and setting up chairs in preparation for the two-day event he’s created in hopes of finding new Valley talent. As he briefs us on the event, I can’t help but be inspired by what’s taking place around me. The world is full of “talkers,” but this guy is a “doer.” And what I saw over the next couple hours only reinforced the vision he shared with me in our initial interview: discovering local performers and putting them, and the Central Valley, in the spotlight.
As the event unfolded, we watched hopeful signers take the stage for their auditions and showcase performances from signed IMS artists like Stacey Cacal. This is how IMS is going to put Valley performers on the map, grinding it out one audition at a time and demonstrating results … and I respect that.
We also were introduced to Andrew Lane, the man behind Drew Right Music Group, who is working with Nathaniel to find artists from lesser-known markets. He made it clear that if artists like Lil’ Wayne and Jimi Hendrix can transcend their humble beginnings, so can Fresno’s hopeful performers. Andrew also stressed the importance of the local community’s support of artists. He said there’s great power in having 500,000 to 750,000 locals make a 99-cent download to elevate a single to gold status – catching the eye of major music labels. Having a couple local artists catch fire could ignite a flame that flows throughout the whole Valley.
We hung out with IMS labelmates Brian Cade, Kam, and Zoe who are passionate about their Love City movement, which focuses on uniting Fresno’s music community and elevating all positive artists.
IMS’s own Le’Breaun, who describes her music as international pop, shared with us her dreams of winning Grammy awards and being inspired by mega stars like Mariah Carey and Anita Baker.
We were also invited backstage with Stacey Cacal before her IMS showcase performance where she said her energetic pop sound was inspired by trendsetters like Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars.
Time and time again, each of the artists who work with Nathaniel spoke of him as a big brother and a manager who works hard to put them in position to succeed and keep them out of harm’s way. I also saw him gently coach a nervous singer through her audition to bring out her best performance. As I drove home from the event, I felt I had just met a sincere group of people who were working for a goal greater than themselves.
The Light It Up event appears to have been a success as IMS has since signed new artist Triston Coleman to a record deal with Drew Right Music Group. The 13-year-old rapper/singer/dancer/actor was one of the 60 plus acts that auditioned that weekend. The IMS team is already working with Triston to cut a single, and I hear Disney executives have shown a lot of interest in him.
As the IMS team’s success grows, I’m sure Nathaniel won’t get complacent. As his artists told us, he’s building the foundation of his dream and those of his artists on hard work. So keep an eye out for this local entrepreneur and his team of talented and determined artists.
You can catch IMS artists headlining the upcoming New Year’s Eve Jam with B95’s DJ D. Soto at Blackbeard’s Family Entertainment Center in Fresno.