Shalyah Fearing didn't show any interest in music until she heard her 3-year-old sister singing around the house. Fearing was 5, and was jealous.
"I was like, 'Wait, hold on, I want to sing now,'" Fearing, now 15, says. "My sister would be my inspiration. She made her own songs."
Fearing, who lives in Hudson in northwest Florida, started singing by herself. Since then, she's performed at churches, cafes and other venues by herself and with a band she formed with her brothers and sisters. Last year, she won a teen music competition during Unifest in Lauderdale Lakes. This year, she'll headline the competition.
"I'm going to do three songs. It's not going to be the full song, they're just going to run into each other," Fearing says.
Taking place Sunday, May 17, Unifest is a celebration of Caribbean culture, featuring food from the islands, live music, a battle of marching bands, and the Teen Sensation Competition, in which Fearing participated last year. Jamaican reggae singers Brigadier Jerry, Frankie Paul and Nadine Sutherland will also perform at the festival.
Fearing won last year's contest singing "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton and a reggae version of "Set Fire to the Rain" by Adele.
Although now she can reach the high notes, her mother says she wasn't always good.
"She didn't want her sister to have one up on her, so she would sing all the time, and she sounded really bad," says Crystal Thomas-Fearing, 36. "But I told her dad, 'Don't say anything. We will encourage her, and maybe one day she'll sound good.' "
That day came soon enough, when Fearing surprised her parents by singing in the back seat of their car. At first, they didn't even think it was her.
"And I was like, 'Yes that's me. I practice,'" Fearing says.
Fearing began singing with her dad, Darron Fearing, who had a recording studio at the house and composed his own reggae songs. When Shalyah Fearing was 12, her mother enrolled her in piano and singing lessons.
She has seven brothers and sisters, who all sing. The four oldest, including Shalyah, perform R&B and pop songs together as the Fearing Star band.
But that's not enough for Fearing.
"I want to play all the instruments," Fearing says. "I want to sing, act, play the piano, write my own music."
Unifest will begin 11 a.m. Sunday, May 17, at Vincent Torres Park, 3601 NW 21st St., in Lauderdale Lakes. Tickets cost $12 in advance, or $20 on the day of the event. Admission is free for children 12 and younger. Call 954-326-2399 or go to UnifestLive.com.
Barbara Corbellini Duarte
firstname.lastname@example.org, @babicorb or 954-356-4710