CEDAR RAPIDS — While growing up, Faith Brooks often overheard her mother watching “The Color Purple,” the 1985 film about a black Southern woman battling oppression.
So when the 18-year-old singer from Cedar Rapids saw videos of the film’s Broadway adaptation, she knew she wanted to sing “I’m Here,” which comes at a pivotal moment in the show.
“The character, she’s been abused her whole life — sexually, physically, emotionally — and it’s her breaking from that,” Brooks said. “She’s claiming her independence.”
She chose the emotional ballad as one of her three pieces when competing this past summer at the National Association of Teachers of Signing contest in Chicago.
“When my mom saw me singing it for the first time, she could tell what character I’m trying to play, and she started tearing up — because the message is really great,” Brooks said. “When she saw me singing at Nationals, she couldn’t hold it together and had to put her head down.”
Her performance won her first place in the high school women’s musical theater division.
Teachers who are members of NATS recommend students to the competition’s regional round, where they can then qualify for an online video round, Brook’s voice teacher Brad Barrett said. From there, a select few head to the national round.
Along with “I’m Here,” Brooks also sang “The Secret Garden’s” “Fine White Horse” and “The Book of Mormon’s” “Sal Tlay Ka Siti.”
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“I wanted to sing something that no one else would think of,” Brooks said of the satirical “Book of Mormon” pick. “Something that would push the envelope, but people would enjoy it.”
The mezzo-soprano has been studying with Barrett for about three years, he said.
“Her voice is completely changed, and she’s really been able to embrace my technique,” said Barrett, who has taught voice since 1979. “She really is talented, to be able to sing both classical and musical theater so strongly.”
Two more of Barrett’s students — Jefferson High’s Sarah Rosales and Prairie High’s Cori Nyenyart — also placed at the regional level, he said.
“It’s pretty amazing that they did that well, pretty unbelievable actually,” Barrett said. “It’s very gratifying and very humbling.”
Brooks, a Washington High graduate, is attending Kirkwood Community College and plans to transfer to a university to study music.
“I plan to keep studying it because one day I hope to be on Broadway,” she said. “Or just singing. I love to just sing.”