Westside Connection takes first place at Millard West


Photo courtesy of Andee Scioli

Madeline Schlegel, Staff Writer

The first win of the year for Westside Connection took place on Jan. 25 at Millard West’s “Music Lives!” competition.  The group won  Best Vocals, Best Choreography, and First Place overall, and Joe Mertens got the Best Male Soloist award.

The day started out early for everyone, getting hair ready for girls, making sure instruments were correctly loaded into the bus for everyone, guys having their proper attire (white shirt, black socks) and choir instructor Nicholas Djernes getting everyone hyped up. The wait for the group’s time was almost unbearable but made fun with seeing WHS’s Warrior Express perform and then SI (Simply Irresistible, the all-girls group.)

Prior to performing, Westside Connection went to the practice room to get ready.  While backstage, the Warrior Express, SI, and ATSC high school students were there to cheer on the middle school show choir.

In addition to Westside Connection taking first place, the Show Dogs of Beadle Middle took second and Lewis Central Middle’s Titan Force placed third.

Interview with Nicholas Djernes on the Millard West competition

How were you feeling throughout the day?
“Probably a combination of excited and nervous, not like stressed. Nervous is more like, kind of like you just built this airplane. If you’re the Wright brothers, and you’re going to test it out and you’re not sure if it’s going to fly or stay on the ground. I didn’t think it would crash and burn, but I was, like, it could either be really awesome or not because it was the first time we had been out somewhere. And I’m also at the same time excited and nervous to see what other people thought of the show, because for me I’ve been living with this show in my brain for, like, a year, and this was the first time showing it to a lot of critical people to see what they think of it. So I was kind of nervous how people would respond to it and if they like it, or the costumes, the band and the sound effects we’ve done.”

What were you feeling when you went into the warm-up room?
“Yeah, in the warm-up room I felt completely at ease. I think that when I’m with the choir I feel completely calm and confident with what we’ve done and our skill sets we’ve developed. It’s because I don’t know what I think when I’m in front of them, then I’m reminded of how hard we’ve worked, and I’m reminded of the ability we have. So it’s only times when I’m not in front of them that I get inside my head and start thinking that maybe things aren’t going to work out, and then I see them and I start looking at individuals and looking at how much they care, and they’re putting themselves into their performance, and I start to feel taken care of and trusted.”

What were your emotions when you were directing the band, and what was going through your mind? What were you thinking about when you were directing? 
“Nothing really. When I’m back there I’m really just thinking about counts and keeping the whole band together, and I’m listening to volume levels and balance within the band so that we make sure we don’t overpower the singers or are loud enough on dance breaks or that I can hear everything.”

What was going through your mind when they announced who won?
“I mean, I wasn’t surprised, so I don’t mean that to sound arrogant, but I knew we were going to win, like, even if we hadn’t done that well, I think we still would have won. So this contest wasn’t about winning to me. It was about us performing better than we had the week before, which I think we did, which was why I was happy at the end of the day.”

What’s in the future for Westside Connection?
“I think we’re going to develop a stronger vocal sound because the girls have a lot of room to grow, and the guys are going to develop a more mature sound. I get the vibe that we’re not going to back off. I don’t think we’ve peaked. I think we had a bad rehearsal, and so I think we hit a low point and from there I think we’re going to steadily start climbing up. And I think it’s important that we had that moment so we were, like, well maybe we’re not as good as we think. And that was a good time for it to happen.”

What is one word to describe what the group was feeling?
“Unified. I think, like, since everybody from all the show choirs–the high school and the middle school–was together, I think that our students felt a solitary, a unification. With seeing the students from last year, and the students who recognized each other and our high school students watching middle school students knowing that they’re coming to think in a year. It’s just this unifying process where we all just band together, and I’m pretty sure everybody else at the contest hates it because we’re all there and doing really well, but for us, it’s a chance to see everybody support each other.”