Aaron Mercado’s two biggest passions are journalism and musical theater. That’s why he’s pursuing an opportunity to be involved in both — at the same time.
Mercado, an accomplished photojournalist who graduated from Fremont High School last weekend, is one of 10 student reporters from around the country who have been selected as finalists to cover the “Jimmy Awards,” a national musical theater award show for high school performers similar to the Tony Awards.
Two students ultimately will be selected to cover the event on June 25 in New York City, taking photos and sharing updates from the event via social media.
When it comes to journalism, Mercado is no amateur — he’s been recognized for his work multiple times, including in numerous trips to the Nebraska School Activities Association State Journalism Championship during his four years as a high school student. Last year, he took first place in both sports action photography and news feature photography.
“One of the reasons I want to go cover it so badly is because I’m a huge musical theater enthusiast as well,” Mercado told the Tribune. “I just want the opportunity to live both worlds, of both photography and music. I fully love both equally. Getting the chance to go to New York City would be a huge opportunity for me, to help build my resume. I just think it would be a really awesome opportunity.”
Mercado has also been involved in Fremont High School’s productions of “Guys and Dolls” and “Anything Goes.” He said the Jimmy Awards often brings out Broadway stars as co-hosts, and he’d be excited to get the chance to see them.
“I never had a very big role, but I’ve always been super into music and theater,” he said.
To be chosen to cover the Jimmy Awards, Mercado must accumulate likes and shares on a video that he submitted to Omaha Performing Arts, who then selected it for submission to the Broadway League, who ultimately selected the top 10 finalists from across the country. Mercado’s video can be found by scrolling down on the Facebook page for the Jimmy Awards. The submissions board will base their selection in part by determining which videos received the most likes, shares and views on the Jimmy Awards Facebook page.
Mercado says he’s been hovering between second and third place, and he’s hoping to get more support before the winners are selected on June 1.
In Mercado’s video, he makes a case for his selection, citing his history working with the Fremont High School student newspaper, his victories at the NSAA Championships and more.
“If I got this opportunity, I would not take it for granted,” he tells the camera, dressed in a suit and tie. “I would make sure do my absolute best to shine a spotlight — pun intended — on all the aspects of the Jimmy Awards and everything that it stands for.”
Mercado says he heard about the competition late, and had to complete the video on a tight deadline — as is common in the world of journalism. According to Kathleen Lawler Hustead, the education manager at Omaha Performing Arts, it was Mercado’s enthusiasm that made Omaha Performing Arts select his video for submission to the Broadway League. The videos needed to be done without the help of teachers or adults, she added.
“When Aaron submitted his video, it was a pretty tight turnaround time, but he had such great personality, poise and was so enthusiastic,” Lawler Hustead said. “So we submitted to Broadway League to be considered right away, and we were thrilled when he was selected for the top 10.”
Even if Mercado does not get selected to cover the Jimmy Awards, he will be honored at the Omaha Performing Arts Nebraska High School Theatre Awards program on June 8 at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha for being a finalist, Lawler Hustead said. As part of the honor, he will conduct student interviews on the red carpet and take over social media for the event.
But Lawler Hustead hopes he’ll take his talents to New York as well.
“We are really encouraging everyone to go to the Jimmy Awards Facebook page, find his video and watch it, share it, like it, comment on it,” she said. “We feel like he has done such a fantastic job and we would love to have him represent, not only Omaha Performing Arts Nebraska High School Theater Awards, but the entire state, in New York City.”
Mercado said that being selected would be a humbling experience.
“Getting to go means that my entire community supports me and they all believe in me,” he said.
Next year, Mercado will attend the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he will major in music education and journalism, while working for the school’s newspaper. Ultimately, he can’t choose between his two biggest passions — he hopes to one day be a music teacher who does freelance photojournalism on the side.
“I think they both are able to tell stories that need to be told, and they both offer insight into a different world that you might not really see,” Mercado said.