When award-winning actress and singer Tichina Arnold, from CBS’s The Neighborhood and Martin, took the stage on October 27 at New York City’s Chelsea Music Hall, she promised: “After tonight, we will be able to brag to all of our friends and fans that these are the folks we knew before everybody else got to know them.”
As host of the inaugural Paramount Music Showcase, Arnold introduced a crowd of friends, family, and industry insiders to three emerging artists — selected by Paramount’s music, creative, and production teams in partnership with Paramount’s Office of Global Inclusion — who’ve been hungry to take their work to the next level. These up-and-comers, from communities historically underrepresented in music, teamed up with industry veterans — Crush Music’s Charlie Adelman, Roc Nation’s Bianca Nicole Edwards, and RCA Records’ Jessie Maldonado — to hone their craft last summer.
Months of mentorship and songwriting advice culminated at the Thursday-night showcase, where each artist showed off what they’d learned and put on a performance that, as Arnold hinted, was something worth boasting about. In a venue so intimate you could touch the stage, the untapped talent felt like it overflowed the room.
First up, with a voice smoother than silk, Rellz — raised on Long Island and introduced by Arnold as “New York City’s best-kept secret” — flaunted his R&B roots with “Your Best Friend” and “Twin Flame.” He pulled in the audience with nostalgic childhood memories, recounting Saturday mornings in the car with his family listening to the likes of Run-DMC, Boyz II Men, Usher, and more.
These stories came complete with brief covers of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick,” Chris Brown’s “Yo (Excuse Me Miss),” and Mario’s “Let Me Love You” — the latter of which Rellz once sang on the spot while interviewing for New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he got in, and as his career continues to flourish, he said his darkest moments in the city end up illuminating the brightest moments in his music. “I was just able to kind of take those [bad moments] and put them into music, find an outlet,” he told Arnold about his work. “I feel like at the end of the day, this is my therapy.”
Singer, composer, and producer Pardo, the night’s next act, also paid homage to the Big Apple with “Nueva York,” a song about finding love. “New York pushes you,” he told the crowd. “It’s like, ‘hey you, you gonna do it or what?’”
Born in Cajicá, Colombia, Pardo went from playing video games to plucking guitar strings and drawing inspiration from urban pop, dembow, and reggaeton. He treated the audience to an acoustic set of “El Perrito,” a song about taking risks — something “we all do here in New York, right?”
Afterwards, Arnold asked Pardo to share what he wants most out of his blossoming career. For him, it’s not just about the tunes: “I want to make stories… you can [relate] to in the moment when you need, when you’re alone, when you’re sad, when you’re in love, when you’re in despair.” Arnold summed it up in one word: legacy.
In the same vein, the night’s final act — Synead, a queer poly-disciplinary performance artist and expressionist — is “just not one thing,” she announced onstage. “I find that it’s important for me to showcase and highlight all of the things I’m attached to, whether it’s community, whether it’s music, whether it’s art, whether it’s community organizing, whether it’s activism.”
A keynote speaker at Harvard’s Alumni of Color Conference, Synead has been honored by the NAACP for her role in organizing Millions March NYC, a protest against police brutality and racial injustice that drew in thousands of supporters across the city. “Everything that I do is really impacted by my lived experiences in the world,” she continued, explaining how community healing influences her work. “Art is activism. It can change someone’s life.”
With the backup of a full band, Synead fired up the pit with “Zenith” and “Dark French” — “about a time in my life when I was making out with French boys,” she joked — and surprised everyone with a mid-performance outfit change, taking off her shoes and sashaying into the crowd. Who needs heels when you’re at the zenith, anyway?
“I was able to understand the gravity of what I had in my hands when my parents kept funneling money, endless amounts of money, into my craft,” Synead said, thanking her mom and dad cheering her on from the sidelines. “They saw that I had something, and they said, you know what, you have to invest in it… I took that energy with me, and it transcended into activism, into a 60,000-person march in 2014.” (In December of that year, following grand jury decisions in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases, Synead and Millions March NYC chanted “hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” up and down Manhattan to rally against racial bias and profiling.)
Back at Chelsea Music Hall, the dance floor was buzzing with Synead at its center, but the show wasn’t over yet. Just as Rellz opened his set with beloved fan-favorites, the night sauntered to an exciting finale with a guaranteed crowd-pleaser: Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”
Rellz, Pardo, and Arnold joined Synead to close out the night with this unforgettable 2003 hit that, yes, everybody still remembered all the lyrics to. Was it a concert? A house party? A karaoke sing-along? It felt like all of the above — a first-of-its-kind showcase that reminded everyone in the room how music can bring people together.