When people think of local awards ceremonies, images of cramped banquet halls and rubbery chicken come to mind.
Unbeknownst to many Kansas Citians, Black creatives are gearing up for their fourth year of a far different event, with a red carpet pre-show parading the best in KC fashion, a ceremony sparkling with some of the most talented local performers on stage, and a celebration of the best and brightest across music, entertainment and entrepreneurship in the urban core.
The Kansas City People’s Choice Awards has grown into one of the definitive events of the year in the Black community, and Sunday’s ceremony promises to be the biggest yet, held at the Midland Theater for the first time, with over 1,000 tickets sold so far.
Founder and organizer Terrell Ray says he created the awards to highlight Black excellence and foster a sense of community. However, he remembers the many hurdles that needed to be overcome in the beginning.
“In the first couple years there was a lot of negativity,” Ray says. “People started off thinking it was just a popularity contest. It was new, so that is to be expected. But in the last two years it has changed. There are more people really understanding what the awards does for Kansas City — not just individuals but the entire city.”
With over 300 nominees across 75 categories, Ray has created an award show unlike any other in Kansas City. The public has been voting for several months, narrowing the field until the finals. Over the years the campaigns to win votes have grown serious, as nominees fight to walk away with the coveted trophy and bragging rights.
“The beautiful part is that people aren’t just looking at the winners. Yes, people want to win and be called the best, but the awards provide a lot of opportunities for recognition and visibility for businesses to build. None of this takes place if the awards don’t happen,” Ray says.
Each year the awards have slowly won over the critics who had tried to downplay the event’s significance. Though Ray has grown used to the antagonism, he doesn’t allow it to vaporize the excitement. The main priority is the high quality the ceremony has come to be known for, with a smooth production, talented performers and audiences looking glamorous.
“At the beginning it was very stressful. I know what works now, so it’s a lot smoother. It is pressure to make sure I am producing a wonderful show. The difficult part for me now is dealing with personal attitudes. Dealing with all these different personalities and trying to provide information to all these people and making sure everyone is on the same page,” he says.
A return winner
Local podcast host and YouTube content creator Kim Newsome has felt the power from winning an award. She took home last year’s award for best podcast and is nominated for best host this year, and she will be hosting the red carpet as it is livestreamed.
“I take my hat off to Terrell Ray because he found a way to keep going with all the hate and negativity. It’s bigger than him now,” says Newsome. “I saw someone that was trying to do something positive in the community and I wanted to find a way to be a part of it. I love production, so anytime I can be a part of a show I definitely will.”
Newsome, who hosts the “Kimology” podcast, a program dedicated to interviewing local music artists and entertainers, feels the awards are a perfect opportunity to build bonds.
“On the red carpet I get to talk to people about their outfits and how they feel being nominated and being at the show,” says Newsome. “These awards make you campaign and advocate for yourself. There is a big difference between confidence and ego. I have learned to be more confident in myself without being egotistical,” she says.
For returning winners like Newsome who are hoping to add a second victory to their resume, the work doesn’t get easier. If anything, the bar is raised and they are compelled to dedicate even more time and effort to maintain the title of best of the year. Newsome’s signature phrase, which has become synonymous with her brand, is “Keep Blooming,” a sentiment which holds a reminder of growth to the 35-year-old KC native.
“I always felt like a late bloomer but you come across your purpose when it is supposed to happen. There is no time limit or age limit to finding your dreams, and the only thing I am afraid of is not accomplishing my goals. My tunnel vision is on lock,” says Newsome.
An important factor of every year’s awards is definitely the local performers. This year Ray says the awards will offer “one of the best lineups we have ever had,” with acts including a saxophone player, dance group, drill team, R&B singers, poets and, of course, some of the biggest names in Kansas City hip-hop.
A rising hip-hop star
Hip-hop artist Dorothy Miles, who goes by the stage name Amira Wang, is bound to give an electrifying show. Miles over the past several years has built a following centered around her fun, uptempo, high-energy music, and a commanding stage presence. She was nominated for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist for the fourth year.
“The first year I was nominated for best female rapper, and I lost. I performed that year and still feel like I won just the way the performance went,” says Miles. “I had stage fright. When I was walking to that stage the first time and performing for over a thousand people, I was nervous. But as soon as I hit the stage it was game time.”
Quickly becoming one of the definitive female acts in local hip-hop, Miles received national attention when her track “Gimmie” went viral and gave birth to a TikTok challenge. Miles has no intention of losing her position among the countless rappers clogging up the internet and is always working on ways to separate her live shows from peers and give her fans something they have never seen.
“Most hip-hop acts in KC aren’t unique. They don’t come with their original sound. But that’s starting to change. Right now is the point I have been most excited about KC hip-hop for. I am seeing more people work with each other and come together. It’s pretty dope,” she says.
Miles doesn’t fit the traditional mold of most female artists in the music industry. Though the 25-year-old KC native describes herself as a “flamboyant tomboy,” she still manages to create music chock-full of lyrics dedicated to women being proud of their bodies and sexuality.
“I am not the industry standard,” she says. “You see women with a small waist, a tight body and light skin. I am a big girl, everything is big on me. It is important to me to have a balance. There is a yin and a yang to everything I do. That’s why I call my shows ‘ratchet and righteous.’”
This year, Miles will be joined on stage with her own drill team dancers as well as a choir.
Ray is optimistic about Sunday’s show and the future.
“I think this show can be around for another 10 years. We are looking to establish that staying power,” he says. “We are never going to run out of people to fill these categories, but will the people get tired of it if it is the same old thing every time? So, every year we have to do our best so they will continue to come out and support.”
Sunday’s awards show
The Kansas City People’s Choice Awards begins at 2 pm Sunday with red carpet arrivals and the ceremony at 3:30 pm at the Midland Theatre, 1228 Main St. Tickets are $40 ($55 includes the after party), available at kcpcawards.com. Dress code: no athletic apparel, ball caps or gym shoes, and no T-shirts without a vest or dinner jacket. The show will be livestreamed via Facebook and Instagram.