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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

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.

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