Sarah Horn: Part of a Bowl-ful of talent

An interview with Sarah Horn, the Riverside native who was unexpectedly chosen from an audience of thousands at the Hollywood Bowl last Friday (Aug. 23) to sing onstage with her idol, Kristin Chenoweth.

Before the Earth stopped turning so that everyone could halt their lives and watch the confused, gyrating choreo-ethnography that was Miley Cyrus' appearance at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards, you might have stumbled upon a viral video of a very different nature. It's a clip from Aug. 23's Hollywood Bowl performance by Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. The tiny belter, best known for her role as Glinda in "Wicked," was accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But the show was stolen by an unassuming voice teacher from Riverside.

Sarah Horn had not planned on sitting where she landed at the Bowl. As she later wrote on, it was only after a series of surprise ticket changes that she found herself close enough to the stage to raise her hand when Chenoweth went looking for a duet partner.


Chenoweth has a habit of inviting audience members to sing with her, a proposition that calls for finely honed skills in that stage technique known as "saving the other person from himself." But on Friday, after waiting patiently while Chenoweth sang Glinda's part of the "Wicked" duet "For Good," Horn unleashed a voice so strong, rich and textured, it rivaled the headliner's. And that's just going by the iPhone video footage captured by Horn's friend.

That video has now been viewed on YouTube upward of 2.4 million times, and Horn is a media sensation. But amid all the fawning and gushing, questions are arising. Will Horn get a recording deal? Will she be hired away from her job as an adjunct voice professor at California Baptist University and her resident music director position at the Riverside Youth Theatre to replace Christina Aguilera on NBC's "The Voice"?

And one question seems to be getting asked more than the others. Was the whole thing a setup? What are the chances, after all, of a singer that good just happening to sit in those seats and, with no preparation whatsoever, delivering a performance that polished?

Personally, I don't think Horn was a plant. Chenoweth is a famous singer, with a fan base that probably includes a whole lot of aspiring Broadway-style performers, who are likely to have some serious voice training. That's not to say the house was packed with Horn-level vocalists; just that if you wanted to throw a dart at a crowd in the hopes of hitting a great singer, you're probably better off at a Chenoweth show than, say, a Lady Gaga show (no offense to Gaga). Indeed, Chenoweth's recruit the following night turned out to be a musical theater student who, though less gifted, managed to hold her own quite impressively.

But all this seems less relevant than the fact that so many people have found it so hard to believe that a performance like Horn's could happen organically. Sure, real spontaneity is rare. But the truth is, there are lots of talented people in the world, most of whom will never be famous and some of whom are probably more talented than the artists who sell out arenas and, ahem, appear on the Video Music Awards.

In the age of YouTube and TV talent contests, however, it's easy to forget that some talented people prefer to nurture their talents quietly, saving them for the church choir or the classroom — or even just the shower. Public exposure has become so easy, we've come to assume that anything less than rigorous self-promotion signifies a lack of ambition or even passion.

Not that Horn doesn't seem poised to take full advantage of the opportunity she's been handed. She told The Times on Tuesday that her wish list included performing at the Pantages and on "The Ellen Degeneres Show." Still, she doesn't come across as a lifelong striver. She doesn't appear to have a functioning website, much less her own YouTube channel. Instead, she reminds us that it's possible to be an artist and a working professional without making fame the end game. She reminds us that no matter how good we are at something, there are undoubtedly countless others who, given the interest or inclination, could run circles around us.

Alarmingly, that means there are more Miley Cyruses out there. But it also means that the phrase "America's got talent" refers to more than just a TV show that showcases our most devoted exhibitionists. It reflects many of our humbler citizens as well. And that's the mark of a great nation. Twitter: @meghan_daum