By Rachel Stern
Special to DNAinfo
HARLEM — For the first time in the history of the Apollo Theater's near century-old Amateur Night finals, two musicians tied for the grand prize Wednesday night.
The performer who receives the loudest applause is deemed the winner, but cellist and singer Ayanna Witter-Johnson and guitarist Nathan Foley received an equally deafening round of cheers from the theater's full house, judges said.
"We both won all previous rounds, so it felt fair," said Witter-Johnson, 25, who hails from London but is living in Morningside Heights while studying at the Manhattan School of Music.
"It's great, especially that I got to share this with someone else," said Foley, 16, who lives in Rockville, MD, and also competed in last year's competition.
Witter-Johnson and Foley will split the $10,000 prize right down the middle.
Amateur Night, which has been held at the 253 W. 125th St. theater for 96 years, has catapulted the careers of such musical greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill and the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.
As tradition dictates, Wednesday's final showdown, dubbed "Super Top Dog," opened with a "Child Star of Tomorrow" contest, in which precocious performers — this year all under 15 — competed for a $2000 prize. This year, a 10-year-old singer named Lianah Santa Ana of Freehold, N.J. came in first place.
In addition to Witter-Johnson's crooning of an original jazz composition and Foley's soulful instrumental guitar blues, the Super Top Dog performances included Hand Sign, a Japanese dance group, and Moses Harper, a female Michael Jackson tribute artist who moon-walked across the stage in a sparkly black overcoat.
A host who went by the name "Capone" kept the show moving, prompting audience members to hold hands and sing "Love Train" before the performers came on stage.
"You don't get this at Carnegie Hall," he joked.