The road to fame: CHS student Jamera Robinson makes impression in debut at famed Apollo Theater

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Jamera Robinson sings in front of a crowd as Marines stand silently in the background. Robinson sang the national anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” (Photo by Jason Conerly)

Jamera Robinson sings in front of a crowd as Marines stand silently in the background. Robinson sang the national anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” (Photo by Jason Conerly)

By Mark Ambrogi

Jamera Robinson has learned quickly there will be prices to pay on the road to fame.

The Carmel High School sophomore learned that lesson while auditioning for New York’s Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night in Harlem.

“We waited in a long line wrapped around the whole building,” Robinson said of the March 19 audition. “It was freezing. There was still snow on the ground.”

Once they got inside, the wait continued. It took nine-and-a-half hours but it proved worth it as Robinson earned a spot.

Robinson, 15, said she was confident she would get a call back after the audition.

“When I got up there, they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, she can sing. Sing something else,’” Robinson said. “I was nervous, and my voice got a little low. They were like, ’OK, she’s done.’ But they took me aside and asked my age. I thought, ‘I got this.’”

Jamera Robinson sings the national anthem in July at the Indiana Black Expo before the amateur boxing showcase. (Photo by Jason Conerly)

Jamera Robinson sings the national anthem in July at the Indiana Black Expo before the amateur boxing showcase. (Photo by Jason Conerly)

For her June 15 appearance at the Apollo, Robinson sang “I Believe in You and Me” by Whitney Houston and was named the runner-up in the 15-and-under group.

“Everybody is packed backstage, so you don’t have any room to relax,” Robinson said. “Then you go out there and everyone is screaming. I was nervous for the first minute of the song, so that’s awhile to be nervous on the stage. After that, I was fine.”

During her visits, Robinson became well aware that numerous performers, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Jackson 5, launched their careers at the Apollo. The theater has long billed itself as “where stars are born and legends are made.”

Twenty-five of Robinson’s family members, including an aunt from Oklahoma, came to the show. Her parents, Kia Watkins and Jerome Robinson, are proud supporters.

“If one of us (children) does something, my dad puts it on Facebook and tags all his best friends,” Robinson said.

Robinson has been invited to a return appearance at the Apollo’s Amateur Night. She said she has the ability to sing a variety of styles.

“I would prefer R&B, pop and stuff like that,” Robinson said.

Robinson sang the National Anthem and Black American National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) at the amateur boxing showcase at the Indiana Black Expo in July. In 2015, she sang the National Anthem at the Western & Southern tennis tournament in Mason, Ohio.

As a sixth grader, Robinson was one of just a few in her age group who made it to the final cut of “The X-Factor” audition in Charleston, S.C. Robinson said there was a football field full of contestants.

“I wasn’t sad when I didn’t make it, because that’s pretty impressive,” Robinson said.

Since she was 11, Robinson has been a member of the adult portion of Asante Children’s Theatre, a performing arts program, in Indianapolis.

“It gets you prepared if you were to make it humongous,” Robinson said. “We put on a show by Jeffrey Page, who has been Beyonce’s choreographer.”

There are frequently several practices four days a week for four hours a day. The big productions are every summer.

“I know I improved as a dancer working with the people I worked with, besides Jeffrey Page,” Robinson said.

Asante Theater founder and artistic directer Deborah Asante serves as a mentor, Robinson said.

Watkins said her daughter began performing when she was seven years old.

“She told me she wanted to try out for the school talent show,” Watkins said. “I said, ‘What are are you going to do?’ She said she was going to sing, and when I asked what, she said a song by Alicia Keys. I said, ‘I’ve never heard you sing and you are going to sing Alicia Keys?’”

Her mother quickly discovered her daughter had talent. From there, she kept entering talent shows, followed by performing in plays at Footlite Musicals in Indianapolis.

“We’ve made her available for bookings now that she has some experience under her belt,” Watkins said. “She is available for weddings, memorial services and different things like that. She is probably going to be in the studio soon to record an EP. She is learning the guitar.”

A variety of her songs are available on YouTube under Jamera J Robinson.

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MEET JAMERA ROBINSON

Birthday: Turns 16 Dec. 17.

Personal: Played rugby and basketball when she was younger. Brother, Tobias Watkins, played running back for CHS before graduating in May.

Favorite class: “I like social studies, geography, and I like math when I understand it.”

How do you relax?: “I like doing arts and crafts. I like making bracelets.”

Favorite foods: Chinese food, Jamaican food.

Favorite restaurants: The Journey, Indianapolis; and Jamaican Reggae Grill, Carmel.

What is your ultimate goal in 10 years? “I’ll have made lots of money from singing. I want to help people and do charity work with my church.”

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