Talent rules at Sandals arts festival

Associate Editor —
Auto & Entertainment

Saturday, May 26, 2018

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SANDALS Ochi Beach Resort in St Ann was transformed into the island's entertainment capital last Saturday as employees of the award-winning retreat and its Beaches chain vied for coveted spots in national finals of the Festival of the Arts talent competition.

The winners — who competed in eight categories — are slated to represent Jamaica in the international final set for St Lucia in June.

When the dust settled representatives of Sandals Ochi Beach Resort and Sandal South Coast secured wins in three categories each. Male singer, dance duo, and female model; and solo dance, male model and spoken word, respectively.

Beaches Ocho Rios took two (female singer and best DJ), and Sandals Negril recorded a sole win in the instrumentalist segment.

Joel Ryan, Sandals group's director of entertainment, was pleased with the talent on show.

“The performances were remarkable. The standard has definitely increased tremendously. This is our 14th year and next year we're gonna be launching our 15th anniversary. And we'll be offering scholarships for a summer internship programme that we're gonna be setting up with a School of the Creative Arts that is gonna be helping to develop some of the talent we have in-house. So, we're gonna be shifting from the competitive element into more of a developing element so we can utilise a lot of the talent we've been experiencing over the last 15 years back into the industry; back into our hotels. And continue to inspire young people to find a creative platform to express themselves,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

In the keenly contested male singer category, Akeen Fennell (Sandals Ochi) got the better of Jhoniel Bloomfield (Sandals South Coast) and Paul Harty (Sandals Royal Caribbean). With a home court advantag e, he found favour among the female members of the audience and judges with his flawless rendition of John Legend's So High.

He spoke to the Observer shortly after his win.

“I was very nervous coming into the competition, but I think that motivated me to give my best,” he said. “I'm feeling elated. I'm happy beyond words.”

Fennell, who has been married for two years, dedicated the win to his wife who was in Michigan, US. He looks forward to representing the resort in the St Lucia grand finals.

“They should expect me coming with greatest,” he added.

In the female category, Beaches Ocho Rios's Jessica Clarke made light work of a well-tried Alekia Vessel (Beaches Negril) and Lucky-Ann Dyer (Sandals Montego Bay).

Her emotional and soulful rendition of Jennifer Holliday's And I'm Telling You (I'm Not Going) brought the house down with audience members chanting: “Jessica, Jessica, Jessica” at the end of her performance.

“I love singing; it's like a passion to me. I've been singing since six years old in church. I'm happy I got this platform to showcase my talent and just show people who I am... This win means a lot,” she said.

The solo dance category went to Sandals South Coast's Toni O'Meally. Her very well-thought-out routine told a story of rising above the grasp of unemployment until landing a job at the resort chain.

“My performance was the truth. A lot of people from the ghetto face hard times and Sandals is just one of those places that can give them a bright future... It hit home for me,” said O'Meally, who hails from the tough inner-city community of Waterhouse in Kingston.

Another highlight of the evening was the highly entertaining male model category.

Crowd favourite, Sandals Ochi's Chad Roache was left stunned when Deshane Raphael (Sandals South Coast) was named winner.

Prior to the announcement, Roache had the audience enthralled. In the evening wear segment, he confidently rested a foot on the monitor and, after slowly reaching for his shades, put them on. This elicited riotous cheers from his fans. But this was not his day.

The evening's other winners were: female model Ashlie Barrett and dance duo of Gerine Thompson and Tamara Graham (Sandals Ochi); Spoken word Anya-Jean Phillips (Sandals South Coast); Best DJ Willton Walters (Beaches Ocho Rios); and best instrumentalist Roshane Marsh (Sandals Negril).

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