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Tupelo Synergy: The Unicorn of the South

(Tupelo High School Current)


I can vividly remember my first time watching the one and only Tupelo Synergy. I was at the 2022 Jackson Academy Show Choir Invitational, the first normal competition I could attend since the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately for me, my own personal group wasn’t competing for another couple of weeks, so I was free this Saturday to just go and enjoy other show choir performances as I liked. I originally had planned to arrive at the event in order to watch the Small Division groups (as those would be the groups I would be competing against myself), but I somehow managed to get there earlier than expected. With that in mind, I figured I go ahead and watch whatever group was on before the first in Small Mixed. Fortunately for me, that group ended up being Tupelo Synergy. I managed to get a seat first as the show promptly started.


Before I get into what I watched on stage, let me give a bit of backstory into single-gender groups in the southern show choir circuit. Of course, we love every group that competes and wish everyone to do well, but it’s unfortunately a general understanding that some groups aren’t expected to punch above their weight class due to the position they stand in. That’s the case for a lot of single-gender groups. Whether because they’re used as a preparatory group (thereby perceived as less quality) or because of the stereotype that they just didn’t make their larger mixed group (again, this is a stereotype, not a personal belief), single-gender groups often don’t get as much respect as their larger division peers. For the longest time, it was extremely uncommon to see a single gender group place above large groups, especially one from their own high school. Even when there were higher-ranking single-gender groups, their success was usually overshadowed by their larger mixed group, again feeding into those stereotypes mentioned earlier. A prime example would be the amazing ladies of Oak Mountain’s The Muses and their school’s mixed group, Singers. You just don’t ever see The Muses predicted without Singers above them, and The Muses even won the entire single gender division at Show Choir Nationals last year. I mean no disrespect towards Singers, as they are very good group, it’s just unfortunate. That’s where our (as I like to call them) “Unicorn of the South” comes into play here: Tupelo Synergy.


Back in the auditorium, right as the emcee was wrapping up the shoutouts before the show, I remember turning around and seeing the auditorium nearly filled. Keep in mind, this was at just about 8:30 in the morning. As a Small Mixed competitor who consistently competed at such times myself, I could only really remember once or twice when the room was even halfway filled this early in the day (this would be during my sophomore year, when my group Pisgah Innergy won three out of the five comps we went to; I say this not to gloat, just to state that we were relevant and brought what we thought were respectable crowds). And yet, here everyone was, and I was sitting there wondering what they knew that I didn’t, what had them here so soon. I mean, this was just another single-gender group, right? Not only that, but it was also the only show choir group their high school offered. What was everyone here so early for? This question would be answered soon as I turned back to the stage, ready for the curtains to open.


The show started, and I’ll be completely honest: I was hesitant to be impressed. The choreography was fun, and their vocals were impressive; the song selection was even scratching an itch in my brain with witty and fitting choices for this “Letters from War” theme. Yet, I wasn’t allowing myself to really see this group as a contender. I was still holding onto that single-gender perception I mentioned earlier (as unfair as that is), and I couldn’t bring myself to find anything to break that way of thinking. Then, it happened: the moment that I believe this group punched through the roof of southern show choir and started their unique path.


It was during what could be considered the second section of their show, following the opener. The ladies on stage were performing as military wives, awaiting letters from their betrotheds off at war, and this scene was delivering on that exact promise. It was a perfectly happy moment. Letters were being handed out. The girls were singing, dancing, sharing moments of joy with one another. The aforementioned was all happening to the tune of “I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons, a song about hope and optimism in and of itself. Everyone was happy and us, as the audience, felt that happiness and hope along with the girls on stage.

 

And then we heard it.

The telegram.

The dots and the dashes.

 

And then we saw it.

The soldier walking in pace across the stage.

Folded flag in hand.

Heading towards the only girl looking at her letter without a smile.

 

Soldier met girl near the middle of the stage. The room had fallen quieter than silence, the only noises now being the echoes of the telegram coming to a close, followed by the sound of the morbid letter being dropped as the girl reached out and grabbed the flag. She fell to the ground in mourning, and we hear her heavily breathe in her state of shock. What follows is a heart-wrenching, tear jerking ballad that feels like someone stabbed you in the heart and is turning at the handle.


(Tupelo High School Current)


Never have I ever seen a room, much less one that full, completely in-tune and grasped by a show. I mean, you could genuinely hear the letter hit the ground from everywhere in the auditorium. No one dared to make a sound, as that would risk missing even the slightest piece of show that Tupelo was giving us. It was truly amazing how well they had managed to emotionally captivate me, along with the rest of the audience. I have never experienced a show moment like that. I may or may not have even started to form a few tears when I first heard and processed what the telegram sound meant.


They finished the rest of the show excellently, still not letting go of the audience until every member was off the stage. After the curtains had closed and the lights came back on, after I watched the rest of the shows that day, I still found myself thinking about that performance. That moment. That fateful handing-over of the flag to that poor girl. For the first time ever, I told myself “that girls group can win this competition, they could win any competition”, and I meant it.


As fate would have it, Tupelo was unfortunately at the same competition this time as a soon-to-be powerhouse in Brandon. While Brandon ended up winning the grand championship here, Tupelo took first runner-up with the vocals caption, getting very close to that number one spot. This placement sent shockwaves throughout not only the Tupelo program, but the southern show choir circuit as a whole. That perception against single-gender groups I mentioned earlier saw itself truly tarnish for the first time ever, even if it was completely thorough, throughout the entire community. A single-gender group nearly winning an already super competitive event? As their school’s standalone group? This was groundbreaking.


Before this competition, Tupelo had only placed in the final top three once, their lone time at the 2020 Madison Central Deep South Classic (which only had two large division groups and two middle division groups). Since the start of the 2022 season, Tupelo has not placed outside of the final top 3 groups except once, that lone time being this past weekend against Brandon, Homewood, and a resurgent Grenada at the 2024 Jackson Academy Show Choir Invitational, so their fourth overall placement is respectable for any level of group. Not counting last year’s Heart Of America Nashville competition, Tupelo has won every single-gender division they’ve competed in since the start of 2022 as well.


(Tupelo High School Current)



(Tupelo High School Current)


This new level of domination from a standalone single gender group has never been seen in the South, and it serves as a trailblazing path for other single-gender groups to possibly break free from that stereotype and establish themselves as a genuine threat to every other group, not just in the single gender division. And you know what? You don’t have to take it from me. Watch their performance yourself, any of them from 2022, 2023, or this year, and try to say they don’t belong. I’ll bet you can’t. The judges certainly don’t think you can, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. I think it’s time that we, as a circuit, take a step back and genuinely appreciate the work that’s gone into the program at Tupelo, and what they’ve been able to accomplish with that.


Thank you, ladies of Tupelo. We, the southern show choir circuit, look forward to watching you compete at such a high level for years to come. Here’s to Synergy.

 

Watch "Letters from War", directed by Danielle Ratliff and choreographed by Nick Quamme, at https://youtu.be/ofkV8xa1a_M?si=hOy3RbhnESHY_m0c

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Aijalon W
Aijalon W
Feb 11

Beautiful.

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