August 2022 Back in May 2017, I was thrilled to feature on the cover of “Carmel Monthly” two exceptional Carmel High School students and theatrical phenoms Taylor Bickett and Jake Letts, who brought the iconic award-winning Broadway production “Phantom of the Opera” to life on a local stage. I attended one of the CHS performances of this musical, and to this day, I can remember how I forgot that I was watching a high school production that rivaled many professional, off-Broadway versions of Phantom that I have seen. I can also still recall the raw emotions and authenticity that Bickett and Letts brought to their characters as “The Phantom” and “Christine Daae.” And I remember cursing at myself for bringing an inadequate amount of travel tissues to mop up the deluge of tears their performance evoked. As the years have progressed, I’ve kept in touch with Bickett and Letts and have enjoyed following their respective careers. And it brings me great joy to share with their hometown community what the two are currently doing as they continue to expand upon their respective horizons and inspire young, aspiring musicians and actors. From Then to Now Taylor Bickett Bickett grew up singing along to Radio Disney and Hannah Montana, and her mother got her into music fairly early at age nine. Under the tutelage of her vocal coach Blair Clark, Bickett began competing and engaging in the local arts scene — performing in school musicals and the Indianapolis Children’s Choir. “I’d like to give a shout out to Blair for everything he did for me when I was younger,” Bickett said. “And for the way he developed my talents and for believing in me.” After graduating from CHS, Bickett attended Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, which she described as “taking a big leap.” “Moving to Nashville has completely changed me as an artist and as a person,” Bickett shared. “I found a love for songwriting in college and entered this one competition my freshman year — it was a ‘Belmont has talent’ sort of contest, and up until then, I had never finished writing a song in my life. I remember feeling freaked out and panicked, and I wrote my first full song and performed it like three days later.” After winning that competition and getting the “push” that she felt she needed, Bickett began focusing on songwriting and started collaborating with people. “It wasn’t until COVID came around that I really started getting success ,” Bickett said. “I honestly was so bored in March of 2020 during ‘quarantine,’ and my friends had been telling me that I needed to make a TikTok . I got so bored that I did, and it happened so quickly — in the first couple of weeks, I started blowing up and it just kept going, which was a big confidence boost for me. It was really surreal.” Since then, Bickett has been releasing music, and some of her songs have been streaming really well and she has been afforded some positive and career-altering opportunities. Earlier this year, Bickett was crowned the first female champion of Music City Mayhem, an annual contest presented by Lightning 100, Nashville’s Independent Radio, for her performance of “Just My Type,” one of her own originals. Bickett expressed, “It’s been really exciting to be able to use all the different perks you get for winning . In addition to the heavy radio airplay and some performances, I’ve been working with some really cool management and strategy companies, which is huge for an independent artist. It was definitely not an easy win by any means, and my family, friends and fans really came through for me. My social following really stepped up and voted, which was really humbling that people cared enough to click on that link.” Bickett’s debut single “Break My Own” originated from a viral TikTok video and is available on all streaming platforms now! Taylor has also written songs with and for other artists, including “I’m Still Lonely” by Charlie Pittman, which peaked at No. 2 on the Alternative UK iTunes charts (No. 51 overall), and “Bottle of Sunshine” by YouTube star Adelaine Morin. She performs locally in the Indianapolis and Nashville areas and has opened for Hunter Hayes at a charity event for Children’s Miracle Network. For more information on Taylor Bickett, how to stream her music and what socials you can follow her on, visit www.taylorbickett.com. Jake Letts After graduating from CHS, Letts continued his musical theater studies at Ball State University. Letts credits his former voice teacher — the late Leslie Low, who taught in Westfield, Indiana — and the “living legend” Ron Hellems for his development of not only technique but showmanship as well. “For a long time, I thought I was going to be a band teacher, because I was an instrumentalist,” Letts shared. “And as soon as I hit the stage, I was like, ‘Something about this feels right.’ There are many pictures of me as a kid in top hats and bow ties. My first performance was ‘Singing in the Rain’ in the first grade. When I went to college, I learned that there’s a much deeper, richer educational side to theater, and the history was super interesting for me. Especially, finding out that theater history is so deeply intertwined with black cultural history in America — they go hand in hand.” Letts’ passion for musical theater had become even more personal for him, and he found that all of the aspects of theater that challenged him the most were preparing him for the next phase of his musical theater career as an equity actor in his first professional production: The North American Tour of Disney’s “Aladdin.” Most recently, Letts has worked with the talented team at Discovering Broadway and is excited for what awaits him in the “The Big Apple” and beyond. I caught up with Letts as he was literally in the midst of packing up his life and getting ready to leave for New York City to begin rehearsals. “What’s going through my head,” Letts repeated the question I asked of him. “I’m super nervous. I’m excited for the connections that I’m going to make. I’ve never been away from home for this long before. I’m starting to realize how nervous the thought of being in any form of a spotlight can make me. I haven’t done a musical since I was in ‘Newsies’ at Civic in 2019, so, it’s been a few years, and I can tell that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself.” Letts continued, “I want to represent myself and the people who trained me well, and I think everything will be fine. Typically, once I’m in the room, everything just kind of falls into place — like muscle memory, in a way. I just really want to make sure that I’m somebody who’s producing quality work, and that is my main focus right now. I’ve always wanted to be in this situation where I feel like I’m being challenged to do my absolute best . I love that and enjoy that environment. I want to be pushed because they want to see more of what I can do and not because I’m lacking. I am so honored to be a part of this show, and to bring this story to life! Thanks to my family, friends and teachers who helped get me where I am today.” The North American Tour of Disney’s “Aladdin” will launch in Schenectady, New York, at Proctors, playing October 11–23, 2022, and will play 36 cities during the 2022–23 season, including Indianapolis at Clowes Memorial Hall, November 15–20. Be sure to follow Jake Letts on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. For more information on the tour, visit AladdinTheMusical.com/tour, Facebook.com/Aladdin and Twitter.com/Aladdin.