Congratulations to the uber-talented Joshua Lance Dixon. On Monday, we promised that the winner of the singing contest Mama’s Next Big Act would be our NiteLife Person of the Week, but we didn’t know who it would be until the competition had its last round the next night, August 30.
Well, now we know….and I was glad to be there, as your NiteLife Exchange reporter to witness the nail-biting final round. We salute the cabaret Olympics winner of the gold, golden-voiced Joshua Lance Dixon.
Report by Rob Lester; Dixon Photos by Maryann Lopinto
During the 11-week contest, competitors were allowed to choose their own songs, sometimes within a theme. On Disney night, Joshua brought in “Proud of Your Boy,” cut from the animated film Aladdin, but restored for the Broadway version. On “Movie Night,” he worked “9 to 5” into a mash-up, and on a free-choice evening he performed the title song from Next, a 2016 CD collection of material written by another recent and talented NiteLife Person of the Week, Scott Evan Davis, which Joshua also recorded on that album.
I enjoyed being there for the final round at Don’t Tell Mama on West 46th Street to see and hear the top five finalists each do a two-song set with patter. The votes by judges and audience members from that night AND the prior two rounds were all blended, kind of like how ingredients would be in a Hamilton Beach 10-speed blender—which indeed was one of the prizes. This night was sold out and packed to the gills, with several in the overflow crowd actually seated ON the stage!
Joshua’s final set included a powerful number from Andrew Lippa’s I Am Harvey Milk called “Leap” whose lyric talks about taking chances and daring (“Leap before you look…”) and medley of Pippin‘s “Corner of the Sky” and the iconic “Over the Rainbow.” Coincidentally, a couple of days ago, I wrote about Marilyn Maye singing “Over the Rainbow” in her own medley in her current show with Michael Feinstein at Feinstein’s/54 Below, saying that the Wizard of Oz classic is done so much in cabaret, but after all, Miss Maye, like Dorothy in the famous story, is from Kansas. Well, guess what!? After all, Joshua Lance Dixon is from Kansas, too. So, why not let him continue the tradition of Kansas kids yearning for something beyond their world. The sensitive Mr. Dixon’s heartfelt patter compared aspects of the long contest to aspects of the Oz story about needing courage, going on a journey as Dorothy and her three companions did, without being sure they’d be given their hoped-for courage, brains, heart, and way to get home. The talented singer, who clearly has plenty of heart — and the other attributes — and thanked the supportive people involved in the competition, including the attentive audiences — for “helping me find my way home again.” It’s evident that he is at home where he belongs: on the cabaret stage. That was abundantly clear when he saw him in his debut solo show, Fly Up!, at The Duplex and reviewed it. As both an audience member and critic, I was mightily impressed. Obviously, so were many others, as winning is not something new to this vocalist-actor. He received the Bistro Award and the BroadwayWorld.com awards for that show, and was nominated for a MAC Award, too.
The prizes for the contest include a booking at Don’t Tell Mama with a $1500 cash budget for its expenses, a poster hung on the wall with classic star cabaret acts from the early years (like Karen Mason, who opened the club with her show and was one of the contest’s guest judges), a feature article in Cabaret Scenes Magazine, a graphic design package for promotion–courtesy of Frank Dain, its editor-in-chief and one of the contest’s permanent judges for its second year (along with singer-director-Salon Open Mic producer Tanya Moberly) — and, for fun (and to be fodder for weekly jokes by contest creator/host Lennie Watts) that Hamilton Beach 10-speed blender.
The presentations included heartfelt comments and amusing ones, personal stories, and songs that included standards such as “Stormy Weather,” comic numbers from Broadway shows, such as “Gorgeous” from The Apple Tree, “Astonishing” from Little Women, and “Class” from Kander & Ebb’s Chicago, and an adaptation by the same time of special material for Liza Minnelli “Liza with a ‘Z'” (“Say ‘Liza'”) about how to correctly pronounce her name, with the words changed for the contestant whose own name is often mispronounced. The finalist who became the runner-up and will do an opening set in Joshua’s show, Cheo Bourne, also tweaked an established song, “Because You Loved Me,” dedicating it to the judges, with his own lyrics making it “Because You Judged Me.”
In addition to his participation on both of Scott Evan Davis’s albums, Joshua is also heard on Miranda Music‘s multi-artist Christmas album A New York Holiday, singing a moving version of “Let There Be Peace on Earth (and Let It Begin with Me)” and he very much wants to do his own solo album, he told me after the contest at a nearby restaurant–over celebratory carrot cake, macaroni and cheese, and matzoh ball soup. (Everybody celebrates in his own unique way.) He also told me that he already has a few ideas for the kind of show he’d like to do for the act he has the $1500 to work on. Song ideas are flooding his head and being suggested by others.
“I was sure you’d win,” a friend at the restaurant told him.
“You were?” asked the winner, with true amazement, “I wasn’t. I had no idea who’d win.” As host Lennie Watts had said at the beginning of the night, commenting on the high level of talent and their strong work, “This is anybody’s contest,” adding that voting had been close and the final night would certainly determine the outcome. Maybe it wasn’t predictable, but the cheers and prolonged applause for J.L.D. from the S.R.O. crowd were O.M.G.-worthy.
Happy, but a bit stunned, he told me that he’d learned a lot in the contest and had challenged himself to explore new material, dig deep, and had a ball that final night. And I don’t mean just a matzoh ball in a cup of soup.
It was late. Congratulations were still coming in via email and text and phone messages. I told the gifted, hard-working performer that he could wait to collect his thoughts after he’d processed the win and digested the carbs and the waiter had pulled him off the ceiling. So….to be continued….with a full-fledged interview! Check back in this spot of NiteLife Exchange!!