Talent Within the Homeless Community: A Way Out?

The amount of talent in the world is limitless. It exists everywhere, and we find it in the most unexpected places. However, the stigma surrounding unhoused people prevents their talent from entering the public spotlight where it should be. To combat this, recently, those in the homeless community that are breaking those boundaries deserve amplification. 

The discovery of talent in public spaces like the subway is often depicted in film and television as an eye-opening occurrence to those who bear witness. Subway-goers in Los Angeles had a glimpse of this in reality with Emily Zamourka. 

Zamourka was discovered singing by an LAPD officer in a subway. However, the road to fame wasn’t as smooth as it could have been for Zamourka.

First of all, although recorded by the officer with her consent, she initially didn’t want the video posted online. When it eventually was posted online, the next time she was spotted singing in the subway, people began to take the time to stop and photograph the new star.

However, before the internet got a hold of Zamourka, those same subway-goers paid no mind to her singing. Some even made the assumption that she was an industry plant pretending to be homeless to maximize her publicity.

The issue with this assumption is that it’s an infamous trend for up-and-coming celebrities to cosplay being homeless to gain traction on social media platforms. People who take on these personas, intentionally or not, draw attention away from those with talent actually experiencing homelessness. For Zamourka, she noticed the changes in her interactions with the subway-goers almost instantly.

“They want to say hello because they heard me sing,” she said.

Zamourka has had a passion for music her whole life.  As a schoolgirl in Russia, she learned how to play the piano and violin. When she moved to Vancouver, she began offering piano lessons. It wasn’t long after that life started throwing the problems that took her focus away from music and left her financially unstable, and led to her eventually having to play the violin for money on the streets.

Since her claim to fame, LAPD and political consultants started a GoFundMe campaign for Zamourka that has raised more than $45,000 for resources and housing.

A week later, Grammy-nominated producer Joel Diamond offered Zamourka a record deal and remarked, “there’s not only a great story here, but also a great career here.” Though he’s been trying to reach out it hasn’t been confirmed whether she has responded.

However, despite the public’s lack of knowledge of what’s happening behind-the-scenes, Zamourka stated, “my dreams are always there, of course” and “maybe it’ll come true this time.”

Virality among people who are unhoused is not an uncommon phenomenon. 

A man named Maurice on the Houston streets went viral a few years ago for singing “Happy Birthday” to a woman who bought him a meal on her birthday. The video went on to gain almost 20,000 views within its first few days.

However, other than receiving local publicity, Maurice had not been given any real support for his situation, which opens up another issue whether or not it’s ethical to publicize the situations of people experiencing homelessness for the sake of the entertainment of others. 

On the other hand, some people take their talent to the next level like Lady K on this past season of American Idol. 

Lady K and her family lived in a shelter for a while, but not long before she lost her brother to suicide. With two life-altering events to cope with, her family became torn between paying rent and paying for her brother’s funeral.

After singing judge Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” in honor of her brother, the judging panel was blown away by her talent with Perry even saying that Lady K reinvented her song, making it her own. She received three yeses and was able to move forward with the competition. 

These three examples have demonstrated that people experiencing homelessness due to societal expectations garner fandom from the public because of their homelessness. Still, unfortunately, most of the time, it’s not really about their talent and more so their stories.

Nevertheless, these examples also show that despite the public favoring the sob stories of people who are unhoused for entertainment, these same people harbor the most wonderful gifts that deserve exposure to the world. Nurturing such talent helps emphasize the individuality of those experiencing homelessness and further humanizes them in the eyes of the public.


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