Junior Amaya Hardin performs "Home" from the hit Broadway musical "The Wiz" during the 2024 Broadway World Next On Stage Competition. Hardin advanced to the top 3 and traveled to the final round in New York City. (photo by Jennifer Broski)

Hardin shares her lifelong love for theatre

April 11, 2024

By Camryn Stroupe, Opinions Editor

Junior Amaya Hardin entered the Broadway World’s Next On Stage Competition in the fall semester of 2023. In this competition, high school and college theater students submit videos of themselves performing Broadway hits and are voted on by the public. Though Hardin submitted a video as a shot in the dark, a few months later she found herself in New York City as one of the top 3 contestants competing in the live finale.

As a result of becoming a finalsit, Hardin won her trip to New York City, received three Broadway show tickets and performed at the famous theater 54 Below. Her favorite part about the trip, however, was the people. 

“The contestants and the judges were so sweet,” Hardin said. “The judges genuinely cared about all the contestants. I got to meet one of my favorite performers ever, Michael James Scott. I’ve been following his journey since eighth grade, and now he is playing the Genie on Broadway. One of our judges was in the original cast of Mean Girls, and another was a girl who is currently leading in Moulin Rouge. It was surreal.”

Hardin was able to deeply connect with the other contestants. 

“I went in thinking it was going to be super competitive, but everyone was so nice,” Hardin said. 

Hardin reflected on her time with the group before the competition and was thankful for the opportunity and the impact it had on her. 

“Honestly, at that point, we got to the competition, and we didn’t care who won,” Hardin said. “We all deserved to be in the room, and even the judges said that. It was the perfect group, and we connected on a level that I’ve never connected with anyone before in such a short amount of time.”

Hardin’s journey to the big stage did not happen overnight; she has worked extremely hard to get where she is today. Since the age of 3, Hardin has shown an aptitude and love for musical theater. 

“My Mimi was my teacher, and she and my aunt owned an elementary school,” Hardin said. “They would always put on a Christmas pageant, and we would do scenes and songs. That was my introduction to theater. It didn’t really click for me until eighth grade, when I was cast as Rafiki in ‘The Lion King, Jr.’ This was when I got on stage and thought, ‘I want to do this forever and ever.’” 

Her love for musical theater started early, but Hardin’s process to get to the finale of this competition began during the first season of Next On Stage in 2020. 

“I competed the first time when COVID hit and didn’t get past the first round,” Hardin said. “This time around, I was lying in bed and got an email from Broadway World and decided I should try again.” 

Hardin advanced through several phases of competition, and each round, she was met with the excitement of those around her celebrating her accomplishments. “During Festival of Christmas, the live round of announcing the names came around. Everyone kept asking if they had said my name yet, and I really thought that they weren’t going to. I went to the Green Room in JPAC as they got to the final slot of the top 15, and they said my name.”

The next round’s top 10 were announced during one-acts, and the top 5 were announced during winter break. The announcement of the top 3 contestants happened while Hardin was home surrounded by family. 

“I was at my granny’s house because I wanted to get my mind away from the competition,” Hardin said. “I watched it in the corner on my mom’s lap, since I knew I would need comfort if I didn’t make it. They announced my name, and I started bawling. This meant I was going to go to New York. 

“I still think back to that moment. My granny and my mom started crying, and my dad even started tearing up. It was a beautiful scene, and just to have that alone was enough for me in that moment. It boosted my confidence so much. It’s every performer’s shtick that you think at some point that you aren’t truly good enough. It’s the little things that happen throughout your career that help you build your confidence. That was one of those moments for me. It helped me be more determined to advance my talents. That moment snapped me to a new reality, and I’m forever thankful for that. I didn’t even need a win because I’d already won in my eyes.”

Hardin’s career is just beginning, and for the time being, she is a student at OBU, focusing on learning and honing her craft. Hardin’s Ouachita story is unique and has been one of change and growth. 

“I wasn’t actually supposed to go to Ouachita at first,” Hardin said. “I was planning on going to Boston Conservatory. They offered almost a full scholarship, but it was still too much. My in-state option was Ouachita, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Then, I met Dr. Natilan Crutcher. She is my voice professor, and I love her dearly. She is the reason my voice has gotten more mature, and after my first semester of freshman year, I could already hear how my voice sounded different; I felt my voice differently. I call her my auntie because that’s our kind of relationship. It’s not like we don’t have a professional relationship, but she’s like my family now. After that first semester here, so many things were happening in my life that I didn’t have control over. My voice lessons with Dr. Crutcher were always my release and my relaxation, and she always greeted me with open arms and listened. She still does. She is one of the reasons I stayed at Ouachita, and without her, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did in the competition. I owe both my Ouachita journey and my vocal journey to her.”

Hardin’s connection to theater runs deep, and it has greatly helped her learn and grow as a person. 

“Theatre to me is an escape from reality, but it also forces me to open my mind to reality,” Hardin said. “It helps me explore new leaps and bounds of life that I might not have experienced before, and I am stepping into those and, in a way, experiencing them for myself. It also can help those who participate and watch cope with things that are happening in their real lives. No matter what musical you are performing in or watching, you’re going to learn something from it.”

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