The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

What's Happening

February 9, 2012

'New York City Subway Idol' | Soul, rhythm and blues singer in concert Feb. 18 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center

Alice Tan Ridley is just as popular above ground as below it.

The singer, known as “The New York City Subway Idol,” will perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the Pitt-Johnstown campus in Richland Township.

Arts center executive director Michael Bodolosky saw Ridley perform at B.B. King’s in New York City and knew he wanted to bring her to Johnstown.

“She’s a great soul and rhythm and blues singer and an excellent performer,” Bodolosky said.

After singing in the subway for 20 years, Ridley auditioned for and won a place on “America’s Got Talent” at age 58.

She made it through to the finals, but did not win first place.

“I never felt unsure of myself, but being in competition with 70 others was something else,” Ridley said.

“I was happy to be on the show. It taught me a lot. I had a wonderful time. It was the greatest experience of my life. I was seen by the world. I still get emails.”

Ridley’s musical journey began in Georgia, where she was born into a musical family of nine siblings, most of whom have become artists, and has been captivating audiences with her singing since she was 3 years old.

“Singing was a driving force in my early days,” Ridley said.

“My parents and siblings were singing when I was born. My mother told me I sang before I talked.”

Ridley moved to New York in 1971, where she raised two children and taught handicapped children in the New York City school system.

Her daughter, Gabourey Sidibe, made her acting debut in the 2009 film “Precious,” winning an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

Ridley began singing in the subways of New York at 14th Street Union Square, 34th Street Herald Square and 42nd Street Times Square in 1992.

“In New York, every other person is an artist, and we don’t always get big moments,” Ridley said.

“There was a program for singers and dancers, so I made my stage there.

“It was good for me and for those who listened. All I needed was space to move around.”

Her performances covered songs such as “I Will Always Love You,” “I Will Survive,” “Billy Jean” and “My Heart Will Go On” and drew audiences transfixed by her powerful voice who began to call her “The New York City Subway Idol.”

These subway performances resulted in a flurry of YouTube videos, which continue to attract millions of viewers.

Ridley’s performances also got her invited to different countries to sing.

She was invited to tour Morocco by the Moroccan ambassador to the United States and has toured in Argentina, Germany, Uruguay, The Netherlands and throughout the United States.

Ridley will miss singing in the subway, and her fans are saddened to see her leave.

“I get letters from fans asking what station I will be singing in,” she said.

“They say they need to get their healing and are shocked I won’t be there. They say the subway is not like it used to be.”

When she comes to Johnstown, Ridley will still do cover songs along with other music.

“I’m looking forward to doing something more in the near future,” she said.

“I have a single, ‘Winning,’ on Amazon and iTunes.”

Ridley won top honors by singing “Midnight Train to Georgia” on “30 Seconds to Fame” in 2002; sang “Amazing Grace” in “Rize”; played a subway singer in “Heights” in 2005; and won an Emmy Award for her part in the documentary “Military Families” in 2007.

On stage

What: Alice Tan Ridley.

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18.

Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Pitt-Johnstown campus, Richland Township.

Tickets: $35, $30 and $28.

Information: 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or www.upjarts.org.

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