Rising Stars: Spotlight on the Malden High Class of 2025 Junior Variety Performers

Chouaib Saidi contributed to this article

Junior Varieties is an annual tradition at Malden High. It is a fundraising event hosted by the junior class to showcase students’ different talents and skills. To participate, students had to enter the auditions in December and be selected onto the list of participants in January by the advisors, Spanish teacher Robert Grinnell, and history teacher Courtney Braz. This year was the 84th consecutive installment of the longest-running JVs in the nation.

The show took place across the span of two nights, March 15th and 16th, in the Jenkins Auditorium. Both nights had the same 16 showcases split into two acts. 

“I’m looking forward to it. I feel like everything’s starting to come together. There’s a lot of moving parts to it and it’s a lot more work than I had anticipated. We began with tryouts in December and the past few weeks we’ve been busy with rehearsals,” said Grinnell. “It’s a pretty big ordeal. There’ll be 16 acts this year, it’s not only 16 acts but also the transitions between the acts. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be an entertaining night,” Grinnell explained.

Sophomore Milan Nguyen of “Aromatherapy” singing to “Bags” by Clairo. SHUYI CHEN

The process of working towards the event started before December, as many bands that would perform at the shows, got together in a short time period before tryouts. Aromatherapy is a band made up of members, sophomore Moon To and Milan Ngyuen, juniors Jennifer Slawson and Beverly Tong, and freshman Nathan Morelli. To play bass for the group, To joined the group only a short time before JVs. “I was actually kind of pushed into it. Beverly Tong was telling me about her band. They were like, oh, we need a bass. I’m like, oh my God, I play bass! I haven’t been playing for that long, but they’re like, do you just want to fill in? I was just planning to be there as someone who could help them, but I ended up becoming a part of the band, which was cool,” explained To. 

“Bottom Bunk” lead guitarist Slade Harding strumming to Santeria. SHUYI CHEN

Another band that formed shortly before tryouts was Bottom Bunk. The members are juniors Sean Retotal and Slade Harding and seniors Jelani Tah and Brian Vences. “I want to say it was Slade and Sean [that got us together] because they were together before they got the idea of playing the song and bringing Brian and they thought, “Hey we know Jelani, he’s a drummer, he’s our friend, let’s get him here.” And they brought us all together to play the song,” explained Tah.

Tryouts were the week before winter break. Many people signed up and had to be judged by Braz and Grinnell to take part in acts at JVs. “We did tryouts in December that people that were interested in doing crew signed up for crew, and people that were interested in doing acts had the chance to try out. Thankfully we didn’t have to turn many people away. starting towards the end of January is when we started to organize a schedule for what rehearsals would look like,” said Grinnell.

Senior Kayla Ortiz sang at JVs and described tryouts as a “very nerve-wracking process… It wasn’t an easy process. You’re not just performing, but you’re performing in front of a teacher not knowing what your true talent looks like,” said Ortiz. “I was stressed because I was just getting the part down. I had to get the rhythm down, but we put on a good show and the advisors liked it,” added Tah.

Tryouts, however, were mostly a formality, as most who auditioned got a role. “We gave anybody who showed up to auditions a part in the show. So if you auditioned, we said you have the potential to perform. The only thing that we did was we had to combine some acts for the sake of time,” stated Braz.

With tryouts done, JVs were fastly approaching. The theme for this year was decided to be “Late Night with Barbie.” “It was decided upon by the class officers. We met with the class officers in December. Two of the main ideas that came up were Barbie and a late-night talk show theme. And so it was almost like a combination of the two different ideas. We were like, why don’t we do a late-night talk show with Barbie?  The timing worked out well too because the Barbie movie came out last year,” stated Grinnel.

AO Step Team senior Tyler Edmond stepping to the beat. SHUYI CHEN

With everything in place, it was time to practice for the nights. One of the biggest parts of JVs is the performance of the AO Step Team. “The step team performance…is the biggest performance that we do. Choosing to do it has always been like something we were going to do. We spent from December to the showtime just practicing nonstop, going over routines, like figuring out what we were going to wear, the music we were going to use, formations, and things like that. So it was just practicing every day in the cafe to get our stuff together,” said Erika Macharia, captain of the AO Step Team.

Drummer Tah also worked hard in preparation for JVs. “I had to listen to the piece a lot. I watched a ton of videos to get the rhythm down and there was a specific groove you had to play, so I got that down and eventually had to come up with my groove for the solo part, which I ended up doing and it was a lot of repetition and playing over and over to understand it,” said Tah. Likewise, so did Senior Kayla Ortiz, “I started doing vocal practices for my voice, got good rest, drank lots of water, and wished for the best,” said Ortiz.

Junior Kimberlee Smith opens JV for the second year in a row, this time with Olivia Rodrigo’s “The Grudge”. SHUYI CHEN

Finally, the night of JVs came. Patrons were let in at six, and by seven the Jenkins Auditorium was packed, ready for the show. The night started with the lights dimmed and out came the cast. After introducing themselves and the first act, JVs officially began. The first performance of the night was a solo from Kimberlee Smith singing “The Grudge” by Olivia Rodrigo. The crowd was in awe of her talented voice, as they started swaying their phone flashlights in sync. 

Lead singer of “Baby Powder” Heitor Soares grabs the crowd’s attention with his performance of “From The Start”. SHUYI CHEN

The night’s next performance was the first band, Baby Powder, formed of members, lead singer Heitor Soares, guitarists James Song and Mahrianna Comin-Larime, and drummer Dominic Nesta. They played a familiar song that many knew: “From the Start” by Laufey. An energetic Soares managed to grasp the crowd, by the end the crowd were on their feet, giving Baby Powder a standing ovation.

After Baby Powder was the dance group Galxc, who danced to the song “Mago” by GFRIEND. They performed a medium-paced choreographed dance that let all members shine equally. The members of the group are freshman Khuong Nguyen, sophomores Sorin Mamouzette and Christina Robison-McCaskill, and juniors Zi Giana Jefferson and Nashlyn Rubert. “I remember my group and I being so nervous waiting backstage until our showtime despite this being our second year performing. But after a few prayers and words of encouragement, our fears went away,” said Robison-McCaskill. The dance was filled with memorable moments that caught the crowd multiple times. Many in the crowd recognized the lyrics which prompted them to sing along to the chorus. 

Following Galxc was a piano solo of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Invention 4 in D minor” by Sophomore Erica Littlejohn. Bach’s “Invention 4 in D Minor” is a charming piece that Littlejohn executed superbly. The crowd was mesmerized. Littlejohn did well at conveying the talent needed to play the piece, and the crowd admired it.

Newer Edition was a parody of the R&B group “New Edition.” They danced to songs by New Edition while lip-syncing them. The members of the group were Juniors Taisha Balan, Saniah Charles, and Soleil Mathurin, as well as seniors Kennedy Clark, Erikah Macharia, and Giselle Dessert. The creativity of the performance was a highlight of the whole night and the audience indicated that. Midway through the performances, the crowd started waving their flashlights once again.

Next up were juniors Remi Santos  Jefferyi Pagulong, who sang “Sarah” by Alex G. The song wasn’t very fast, but very calming which pleasantly pleased the crowd. 

Next was Aromatherapy. “I was really nervous. Before the performance, I thought it was gonna be really hard, especially with the transitioning of everyone’s instruments and getting people off stage and on stage. But honestly, once I got on the stage it wasn’t that bad, especially ’cause the spotlights are so bright you can’t even see anyone. So it’s not even a big deal. No, I had a lot of fun, so I wasn’t nervous at all,” said To. The quick but soft “Bags” by Clario was played extremely well and the crowd adored it.

To end act one, Ortiz sang “Without You” by Mariah Carey. The slow, calming song paired with Ortiz’s voice was the perfect match. The crowd waved their flashlights from side to side as Ortiz’s voice swept around the auditorium. “I was [nervous], but when I heard about the spotlights being in my face so I wouldn’t have to see people nervous, I felt that sense of comfort,” said Ortiz.

Senior Sarah Boucher introducing the rest of the AO Step Team’s seniors. SHUYI CHEN

Next was the AO Step Team to open up Act Two. The AO Step Team had 29 members, making them the largest performance of the night. The speed of the performance picked up and slowed down in waves, and the crowd thoroughly enjoyed it. “[The crowd] honestly just brings out the best emotions. I love it. The crowd is always so responsive to the step team and I like to feel that love and to feel that knowing that all the work we put into the show is finally like, it’s worth it. It feels really good,” said Macharia.

Senior Sarah Machado then sang “Desafinado” by Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz. The song was slow-paced and sung in Portuguese. The performance was calmer than what came before it and managed to ease the crowd while retaining their attention.

After Machado, the band Closed Captions sang “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski. The members of the band are Guitarists and singers Jefferyi Pagulong and Remi Santos, and drummer Ruka Truong. The highlight of the performance was the vocals by Santos and Pagulong. They managed to grab the attention of the crowd as some sang along.

Stephanie Wong and Angelina Feng followed. They duetted “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele. Wong and Feng paired their talented vocals with Adele’s iconic song, prompting the crowd to sing with them.

The following act was the second and only other piano piece of the night by Senior Matthew Paraliticci Castano. Castano played “Ballade No.1 in G Minor, Op 23” by Frederic Chopin and “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles. The first piece was played well but the highlight was the song switch to “Hit the Road Jack.”

Brian Vences sings his heart out garnering cheers as “Bottom Bunk” closes the show with “Santeria” by Sublime. SHUYI CHEN

The Afro-Caribbean Dance Team is a group made of many different ethnic backgrounds. They did a variety of dances that represented who they are.  The Afro-Caribbean Dance Team has 22 members, making them the second-largest performance of the night. The performance had electrifying energy and the crowd matched them; this was the loudest the crowd got all night.

The final act of the night was the performance by “Bottom Bunk.” Before the show, the members were “definitely [nervous]. I can say for sure when I was on that stage sitting in that seat my hands were shaking, and Brian gave me the go, and I just locked in,” Tah described. They played “Santeria” by Sublime, a calm medium-paced tune that the crowd enjoyed. “Knowing some of my friends were in the audience, they were cheering so hard for me, it just pushed me on. We played so well because of them.”

As the night came to an end, many got to reflect on how amazing JVs were. “Every performance was so good, literally nothing bad the whole night,” said Sophomore Annas Sekhri. “I think that’s kind of crazy, being a part of that legacy here at Malden High, it’s really special,” Tah explained.

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