Noa Garcia plays the piano while singing a song on Monday, July 4, 2022, in her home in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Forest Park resident Noa Garcia will perform songs made famous by jazz icons including Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday at the next Stoop Sessions concert at 505 Ferdinand here in Forest Park on Tuesday, July 12 beginning at 7 p.m.

Half of her story is one of talent and the building of an impressive resume at a young age.

Noa, at age 12, comes with bona fide credentials as a performer.  Her first big audition was for the character Tomika in the Broadway musical School of Rock at the age of eight.  Her mom, Nadine, saw a call for auditions online and signed her up.  The casting director was impressed with her talent but decided that she was too young for the part.

A year later, however she was called back to New York where she survived call back after call back and found herself among the final three girls auditioning for the part.  Unfortunately, Noa’s foot was in a boot because she had broken her toe.  They needed someone for the part the very next week and Noa was unable to complete the dancing portion of the audition.

Noa Garcia sits for a photo at her piano on Monday, July 4, 2022, in her home in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Surviving five call backs was good for her self-confidence.  “Everybody auditioning is really good,” she said.  “I pushed myself because I knew I had the potential.  It was exciting for me.  The pressure was good pressure.”

At the same time, not getting the part in the end was hard because she had gotten so close.

Her second big auditioning experience was for the parts of both Mary and Frannie in the Broadway musical, Trevor.  She made it to the final audition but again did not get the part.  

Nadine said although not getting a part was hard to take, “Noa has learned that you audition and then you let it go.”

Noa has had a great deal of success closer to home.  She has played characters such as Elphaba in Wicked and Janis in Mean Girls.  John Connely at Kagan and Gaines on Roosevelt Rd. made her the lead vocalist in his jazz band.  She won “the best child actress” award at the Rincon International Film Festival for her starring role in a short film called Come/Eat.

And, for the past year Noa has sung with the Grammy award winning chorus, The Soul Children of Chicago.  According to its website the objective of the nonprofit is to “educate the minds, elevate the spirits and illuminate the souls of our youth.”

“I saw a video of the Soul Children two years ago,” said Noa, “and wow.  It moved me for sure.  Once you get in it’s like a big family.”

The other half of Noa’s story is a version of making lemonade out of lemons.  Born with a cleft palate, she has gone through three surgeries, the recovery from which has been physically painful and led to bullying which has hurt emotionally.

“I don’t mind when kids ask questions,” she began, “but I do mind when people assume things like I scratched my lip or I got beat up.  When people say things like that it hurts my feelings.” 

Noa’s mom has helped her deal with the challenge.  “My mom often tells me that I am beautiful just the way I am,” she said.  “She says that if anyone says anything about me, that’s a reflection on themselves, that there is something about themselves that they don’t like so they bully the one person they can find. That’s one of the things I keep in mind.”

Part of the challenge is that Noa has been in several different schools so far, and each time she has to go through the same thing — having to hear off the wall comments, having to explain.

“I do tell them I have a cleft palate,” she said. “People need to learn.  I welcome people asking questions about my cleft.  I think it’s good to put my story out there so other kids can feel more confident about themselves.”

“We know other cleft kids,” Nadine added, “and I think the majority have retreated socially.  The thing with Noa that is so beautiful is that the thing that might have made her want to retreat has propelled her to the front and she embraces it.  She’ll always stand up for somebody at school.”