The spacious atrium at the University at Buffalo was filled with people last Wednesday. They were laughing and talking excitedly, but their heads began to turn and their cameras started to flash as they were drawn to the voices that were filling the atrium.
Maddie Larkin, a junior at Buffalo Seminary, and Julianna Noto, a 12-year-old from West Valley Central School, performed before the start of the WYRK Acoustic Concert.
While fans were lining up for the concert, which featured Thompson Square, Hunter Hayes and JT Hodges, they got to enjoy the voices of Maddie and Julianna echoing throughout the atrium.
Maddie's journey to singing on stage has been a long one, and one that she plans to continue pursuing. When she was 12, a painful back injury ended her dream of becoming an Olympic gymnast. She began writing songs to express the pain and intense emotions she was experiencing.
"My purpose is to write music and to sing," said Maddie. "I love writing my music, it makes it easier for me to get my feelings out there."
Since then, Maddie has been on a mission. She wrote more songs and began taking voice lessons.
She started with Broadway tunes and then realized after singing some music by the Dixie Chicks that country music was her passion.
After that, Maddie did some research. She wrote music for a year before deciding to go to Nashville, Tenn., the hub for country music. After visiting many studios and talking to many people, she finally became a recording artist.
Since then Maddie has learned to play guitar, piano, ukulele and is now learning the drums.
"My favorite instrument to play is guitar," she said. "It's the easiest to write songs with."
While Maddie has found her passion, she still has to go to school like everyone else, except that she misses more days due to being in Nashville almost every other week.
"It's difficult. But my school is really supportive and online schooling has helped a lot," Maddie said. "I really want that college experience, too. I'll probably go somewhere in Tennessee."
In addition to traveling to Nashville, Maddie is also a member of her school's Glee Club, percussion ensemble and a cappella group.
She finds it difficult to balance all of these things, but her family is always there to support her and travel with her, too.
"They are almost always at my concerts, even my sisters come sometimes," said Maddie. "They are so supportive, they always tell me to go for it."
The concerts themselves can be difficult for Maddie.
"I'm usually really nervous and have a lot of butterflies in my stomach," she said. But then, she begins to perform. "I'm simply most comfortable when I sing."
Maddie has performed at a variety of places, including festivals, at open mic nights, at her school, at the Joylan Theatre in Springville, and she has performed the national anthem several times.
Maddie has collaborated with Julianna before last Wednesday.
"I'm good friends with Maddie," Julianna said. "It makes it easier to know someone when you are on stage."
Both Maddie and Julianna focus on country music.
"I love Shania Twain and Taylor Swift," Julianna said. She began to sing to her mother when she was young, and that is how her talent was recognized and fostered.
Julianna is very confident as a person and as a singer, which you can see both on and off the stage.
"I'm not nervous [for the WYRK] concert," Julianna said beforehand. "I'm mostly excited."
While Julianna is only 12, she has had several gigs besides this one, including performing at the Joylan with Maddie, at her school and at the Springville Center for the Arts.
"It's hard to juggle everything, but I'm having so much fun!" Julianna said.
The two girls did an excellent job performing at UB. They sang many of Maddie's songs along with others such as "If I Die Young" by the Band Perry. Everyone seemed to enjoy their performance.
They weren't the only two at the concert that are on the road to a successful career. Hunter Hayes spoke about starting off on his own road to a singing career.
"I began by following bands in Louisiana," Hayes said. "I began sitting in with the band and started playing with them. I found songwriting and learned new instruments."
Like Maddie, Hayes spent much time trying to find someone to help jump-start his career.
"I started going to Nashville and networked as much as possible," he said. Hayes even took an accelerated senior year course so he could focus more on his career, and he graduated when he was 16.
He started in a band as an accordionist at the age of 4, and now he is an accomplished singer who has worked with Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.
He sat up on stage next to Thompson Square and JT Hodges looking completely comfortable as he sang and laughed with the other performers. He also was good-natured when Hodges pulled out a sign that a girl had thrown up on stage that said, "Hunter will you go 2 the prom with me?"
Alissa Roy is a junior at Springville-Griffith Institute.