By Kimberly Swartz
Sacred Heart University sophomore Lauren Celentano began a journey last year that took her to places she never imagined, and it’s not over yet.
Celentano, a member of SHU’s dance company, left the U.S. in the summer of 2017 for Italy, where she auditioned to compete on that country’s popular talent show, Amici. After eight hard months of work, passion and persistence, she emerged as the winner of the show’s dance portion and fourth-place winner overall.
Now, wherever she goes in Italy, she’s greeted by frantic crowds and paparazzi. She recently bought sunglasses to keep from being recognized.
“It’s crazy,” Celentano, 19, said from Imperia, Italy, in late July. “I really didn’t expect this to happen.”
Her adventure began when Kari Williams, SHU Dance Program director, took Celentano and 11 other program members to the World Dance Movement, an international dance workshop and competition in Bari, Italy. There, dancers train each year with the foremost dance educators in the world and compete for cash and scholarships. Casting directors from Amici were at the workshop, scouting for talent. The directors saw Celentano at one of the convention’s classes and they approached her about auditioning for the show. Celentano impressed them with her skills during two auditions, and they immediately wanted her on Amici.
Celentano had to make a tough decision: going on Amici meant putting off college and being away from friends and family. Ultimately, she decided to take the opportunity and go on the show, which showcases dancers and singers as they rehearse, perform and compete. She went to Rome with her mother, Felicity, in November, but when she learned she would have to speak Italian only on the show, she started to have second thoughts. “I told my mom, ‘I can’t do this,’” Celentano recalled. She said her mother told her to give it a chance.
“I was so scared that without the language, I wasn’t going to be able to express myself,” Celentano said. “As a human being, we need to communicate. I thought ‘How am I going to win over the hearts of the people watching if I can’t speak the language?’”
The Cheshire resident said she experienced some low times during the show’s first few months. Personable by nature, Celentano was feeling depressed. “I just didn’t think I was going to make it,” she said, but after about four months of studying Italian with a tutor, she started to understand and speak the language.
Because of Celentano’s passion for dancing, her emotions showed through her talent. “That was really my way of expressing myself, and that’s what a lot of people said to me. They told me they understood me as a person because of my dancing,” she said.
The Thrill of the Stage
Celentano started dancing at age 4 and began competitive dancing at 8. While growing up, she didn’t always love going to rehearsals, but she enjoyed the year-end recitals and “loved” being on stage. “I loved how excited the audience was and sharing that feeling with family and friends,” she said. The thrill of being on stage and performing never left Celentano, who also is involved in SHU’s choral and theater arts programs.
During the first five months Celentano was on Amici, she lived in a hotel in Rome’s business district with other contestants. As the show progressed, she moved into a house with the show’s remaining participants in March and stayed there until Amici concluded in June.
“There’s nothing like this show in America,” Celentano said, comparing it to the 1980 movie, Fame. “It’s set up like a school where we learn how to be stars.”
After months of rehearsal and overcoming a leg injury, Celentano won first place in the show’s dance category and received €50,000 (nearly $58,000 in U.S. dollars). She won the critic’s award as well. “I felt so honored,” Celentano said.
Still in Italy, Celentano is getting used to her fame, making appearances and deciding whether to take on dance opportunities in the country. She said she has learned much from her experiences. “Things happen for a reason,” she said, noting that she originally wanted to attend a performing arts school in New York but wasn’t accepted. She decided to go to SHU, where she found great opportunities and support. “Everything that happened, happened because of SHU,” she said.
Though it may sound like a cliché, Celentano said, hard work is important. “Before talent, before anything else, you have to be hard-working. There was a lot of talent on the show, but not everyone had the passion. It was really difficult; you have to be so disciplined.”
Celentano said she also learned about herself while on Amici. It was the first time she was really alone, with no friends or family nearby. “I really experienced self-discovery and growth,” she said. “I’m really glad I did this. I’m still the same Lauren, just more sure of myself.”