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New London — Samantha Latham was ready to rock on Saturday, prepped to sing her country version of a Carrie Underwood song at the third annual Youth Talent Show at the Garde Arts Center.
Nervous, maybe. Excited, definitely.
"New London is a great place," Samantha, or Sammy E, as she is known on stage, said. "I've made a lot of friends from participating in the show. It brings the community together and makes people know each other more."
Samantha, 11, of Montville was one of 27 young adults ages 11 to 25 who took the stage on Saturday night and left all they had on the floor.
They had been rehearsing since early November, as many as three or four times a week for two to three hours a day.
Before the show began, the performers buzzed about backstage, munching on sandwiches and cookies, chugging Gatorade and checking their cellphones to keep up with their friends on social media.
Some of the performers seemed too nervous to eat. Others practiced their talents by quietly singing to themselves, practicing with a partner or relaxing on a couch.
Either way, they had to be ready. It was show time.
Maurice Steele and Estefano Anguita, or "Moe Steele & Stef Anguita," had more than just a performance on the line Saturday. They were also selling their first album, "The Initiative," after the show. It took them six months to record the 11 tracks on the CD, and Anguita was hopeful their performance would help move some of their records.
Also for the first time, Anguita, 19, of Groton, was making his debut as a singer with Steele.
"I'm nervous, but as soon as I get the mic in my hand, I'll be all right," he said.
He said that he and Steele, 19, of New London, had been friends since childhood.
"We started in church when we were little because that was the biggest crowd we could get," Anguita said. "I used to rap, but I didn't like it that much, but I finally got enough confidence to sing. We hope to make it to bigger and bigger audiences."
The talent show on Saturday came on the heels of back-to-back sentencings of five of the six young men convicted in the murder of Matthew Chew, a cook who worked at 2Wives Brick Oven Pizza.
Chew was jumped by the group of six teenagers and fatally stabbed while walking home from work in downtown New London on Oct. 29, 2010.
The murder, which shook the community, was the genesis for the talent show, which was aimed at keeping Chew's memory alive and shedding a positive light on the youth of New London and the surrounding communities.
One of the talent show coordinators, Susan Asselin-Connolly, said the recent sentencings stirred the pot on the negativity that surrounded Chew's death and the misconceptions about New London's youth.
"All of the negativity just started the groundswell. We have to be reminded about who these kids are, remind the kids what this is all about," Connolly said. "At the final rehearsal, we had a moment, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. They know what it's about."