UNION, NJ – A Union High School junior received the thrill of a lifetime when she appeared on the nationally syndicated Kelly Clarkson Show this week.

Thursday’s show featured a segment with Tony Award winner Laura Benanti discussing her recent social media request for high school performers to send her videos of their performances.  Union High School Performing Arts Company member Khadija Sankoh submitted a musical video and was selected to appear on the show.

Introducing the segment, Kelly Clarkson said, “in the midst of the pandemic and school shut downs, many monumental moments are going to be missed – graduations, tests, proms, sports and high school musicals.  Laura Benanti knows how devastating it would be to rehearse your heart out only to have your performance cancelled.”  Clarkson said Benanti reached out on social media to invite students to send their performances to her.  She received more than 6,000 videos.  Benanti called the initiative #Sunshinesongs.

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“My mom is a voice teacher and when I came back to my childhood home in New Jersey [during the pandemic], she was saying how disappointed all of her students were that their musicals were getting cancelled,” said Benanti.  “I thought about how much my school musical meant to me.”  Benanti said she thought if the kids knew she was watching their videos perhaps it might help them feel a little bit better.  “So I went on social media and asked them to send me their videos with the hashtag #Sunshinesongs.”  She said she thought she’d get 20 or 25 videos.  “So far, there are over 6,000,” she said.  “It’s been incredible.”

“Musicals are not just for the kids performing,” Benanti added.  “They are for communities.  It’s a time for communities to come together in a way that is frankly so beautifully wholesome.”

After she was introduced on the show, Sankoh said Union High School’s company planned on putting on a production of “Once on This Island”, which is now postponed.  “I’ve always wanted to perform in this play since I was in elementary school,” she said.  “It left me feeling really upset.  I was devastated that our show got cancelled a week before it was supposed to go on.”

About Sankoh’s video submission, Benanti said, “I loved all of the performers.  What really stuck out for me about Khadija is that her heart comes through her voice.  I saw her performance shine.  Khadija shines.”

When Benanti responded to Sankoh’s video tweet, she said, “I was literally losing my mind. It didn’t even seem real.  I was running around my house, I was screaming.  It was just amazing. 

Sankoh’s video will be featured in a free #SunshineConcerts series, beginning Saturday, May 2 at 6:00 p.m., which will be live streamed to thousands of senior living communities and hundreds of children’s hospitals.

The event will be hosted live by Benanti, featuring performances from other #Sunshinesongs artists with live interviews with seniors and performers.  “My hope is people who watch are inspired and cheer and it brings a little sunshine to their day,” said Benanti.

Watch the entire segment here.