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Amateur Night at the Apollo: Go Backstage for Opening Night of the 81st Season

A rare peek behind the curtain at the place where James Brown, the Jackson 5, Lauryn Hill and more were once unknowns

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

Amateur Night at the Apollo, one of America's most beloved musical institutions, is world famous for being one of the first places untapped talent emerges before evolving into superstardom. It was there when you could breathe the word "amateur" around people like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frankie Lymon, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, the Jackson 5, Lauryn Hill and more. Rolling Stone got a rare look behind the scenes on the opening night of their 81st season. 

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

Jazmine Sullivan Gets Ready

Tonight's special guest, R&B star Jazmine Sullivan, is an Apollo veteran. Her mother, Pamela, says Jazmine performed here when she was nine years old.

"It's amazing to be back as my own artist now. And having 'made it," Jazmine says. "It's definitely a trip down memory lane, coming back here and remembering how I was back then. All the nerves that I had, just being new."

apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

The Wall of Signatures

The walls off-stage behind stage right feature years of history in signature form, from the Jackson 5 to Barack and Michelle Obama. 

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

Marion J. Caffey, Amateur Night Producer

Amateur night producer Marion J. Caffey watches the crowd filter in from behind the soundboard. Since taking the job six years ago (his first day of work was the morning after President Obama was elected), Caffey has updated the show with a digital media division, a DJ-assisted party feel and some video content."But," he says, "the meat and potatoes is still those amateurs coming out and rolling the dice, as it were, for better or for worse"

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

Ozone

Breakdancer Omaree, a.k.a. Ozone, part of tonight's Child Stars of Tomorrow segment, gets interviewed on the red carpet. He would emerge the night's winner.

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

MarissaAnn

MarissaAnn, 17, gets ready to face the Amateur Night audience. "It's such a legendary place to even step foot on," she says. "I'm so attracted to the energy of the crowd and how they're so honest… Hopefully it's a good energy. The legends that have performed and the legendary crowd — that's why I'm here."

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

MarissaAnn Performs

MarissaAnn sings Beyoncé's "Best Thing I Never Had." "Singing Beyoncé at the Apollo just seemed like the right choice," she says.

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

The Executioner

C.P. Lacey, the Executioner, waits in the wings. He's the one person that none of tonight's contestants want to meet. "Merciful feelings for them?" says the man who dances off the booed, week after week. "I have to say yes."

"But," he adds, "gotta get 'em off! Somebody will be in my shoes the next week."

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

Marian Merriweather

Marian Merriweather, 33, belts through Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady." "It's been a long journey," she says. "I'm from Philadelphia. I came for the auditions in September. In the midst of that, I lost a lot of people. I came up for funerals and then, it just so happens, I head about the audition. And I auditioned just to take a chance, and I'm here."

Apollo

Rebecca Greenfield

Tonight’s Winners

From left: First place winner Jairon Jackson, second place winner Anthony Quarterman, third place winner Marian Merriweather and host Capone.

In This Article: Apollo Theater, Jazmine Sullivan

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