Meghana Pothukuchi is a 12-year-old Taylor Road Middle School (TRMS) student in Alpharetta, Georgia who has quite a story to tell about what she did over her summer vacation – she won a $10,000 prize for singing in her parents’ Indian language of Telugu. And by the way, she doesn’t speak it herself.
Meghana took singing lessons with her older sister. As it turns out, she has a real ear for music. At the age of 4, she could hear a tune once or twice and then sing it. It’s a gift. She also sings in the TRMS Choir and Honor Chorus.
Meghana and her parents entered the contest, which wound up sending them on a whirlwind tour to eight cities in six weeks. Some 230 singers auditioned from all over the country, but only 18 were selected.Her travels took her from Atlanta to New Jersey, then on to Columbus (Ohio), Pittsburgh, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit and ending in Philadelphia. The finals had an audience of more than 6,000.
In each city, the competition thinned out until Meghana was crowned on the last night.
For Meghana, it was an immersion into not only the Telugu language but its culture. “I had to learn conversational speech because I also had to reply to the questions of the judges. We were judged on how well we answered and so I had to learn how to pronounce the words as well as I could,” Meghana said.
Meghana’s mother, Uma Vempati, said pronunciation is a major part of the competition. “You can’t have an accent. So in singing in the native language, diction is judged as much as musical ability,” Uma said.
Telugu is also a rich language full of allusions, metaphors and imagery. There are nuances and similes about nature, so the singer must show the correct emotions during each song. “It is very poetic. And if you put the accent on the wrong syllable, that’s a big mistake too,” said Meghana.
Meghana’s parents said they were glad she had the experience – the glitz, the glamour and the hard, hard work. But her real job is ahead of her – high school. After taxes and expenses, there was not much left of her prize, but she did get the MacBook she wanted.
“It was great. I’m glad I got to do it,” she said.
— As reported in Johns Creek Herald, Atlanta, GA