Blindness can't keep young performer off the stage

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NEVADA, Mo. (AP) — Nevada junior Landon Delgado stands out on stage, but it isn't because of his physical impairment.

It's because he is a born performer -- a fine tenor able to memorize and execute complicated dance steps, one who enjoys dressing in a modern, trendy clothing style that might include a bow tie and fuchsia skinny jeans.

He also happens to be legally blind.

Most who see him perform don't even know.

"Most of our judges when we go to competitions -- and often many of our audiences -- have no idea," said Wes Morton, the director of Nevada High School Show Choir. "Then, it might be mentioned in conversation afterward, and they can't believe it."

Delgado, legally blind since birth, has received numerous awards for his vocal and performance abilities, having been selected for Missouri All-District and racking up "1'' ratings on solos at various contests. Tomorrow, he will be anxiously awaiting an announcement on whether he's been chosen for Missouri All-State Show Choir. If it's a "yes," he'll be among just 30 young men in the state to perform in Jefferson City in July.

His performance resume also includes the lead in the all-school musical, "Pippin," a role in "Hairspray," a role in "Rock to Disco" and a role in the school's rock opera "Tommy," featuring the song "Pinball Wizard."

"Yes, I sang the lyrics that mention the 'deaf, dumb and blind kid,' " he said, grinning. "It actually was awesome."

Delgado has risen to the top in performance through hard work, a positive attitude and the support of the rest of the show choir and other high school friends, Morton said.

"He's an amazing young man. He's never let his disability interfere with his performance or with him as a student," said Morton, who has had Delgado in class since the performer was a seventh grader. "He has grown so much in our music program. He works so hard and spends so many extra hours learning the choreography to make sure he's right on with the rest of kids. His voice is a very, very fine voice; he's certainly a leader in his vocal techniques and his vocal abilities."

Delgado was inspired toward pursuing music in junior high, when the death of his best friend's sister pointed him in the direction of the ministry, and he realized he could combine the two interests.

"The guy who led the service, he played the guitar," Delgado said. "I do, too. It made me want to get involved in that. And now, that's my dream. I really aspire after Phil Wickham, a noted worship leader."

A youth minister began a youth praise team at Delgado's church, the First Baptist Church of Nevada, and Delgado soon joined. Morton approached Delgado about performing in show choir.

Delgado, who can see shapes as well as hints of colors and light, has learned Braille.

"I did that in eighth grade," he said. "A teacher, Karen Smotherman, volunteered to help me learn, and I just thought it would be good to have something to fall back on in case my other options were limited at some point."

He gets enlarged text books for school, for example, but it's occasionally easier to get them printed in Braille, he said.

When Morton hands out sheet music, however, Delgado scans it electronically so he can access it and enlarge it on an iPad.

"He doesn't complain or ask for help; he just does it," Morton said. "He's independent and doesn't want to be known as different from the rest of the kids. And he isn't, really."

Although the directors worried a bit at first about the complex dance elements involved in show choir.

"They thought I might step off the edge of the stage," Delgado said, laughing.

That soon changed.

"We've had him up on tables dancing, and he knows exactly where his boundaries are," Morton said. "Every once in awhile -- it's not really noticeable to the audience unless you're really, really looking -- another student might lightly touch his arm to help guide him up a step. It's just a slight touch. They have it all worked out."

Widely accepted at the school, Delgado said he hears occasional jokes from his friends, but "It's all for comedy, not to hurt my feelings."

Friends drive him to rehearsals and home again, and Morton said fellow members of the show choir "have his back."

"At competitions, everyone always gathers around Landon. He takes his guitar with him. He plays in the hallway. Even kids from other schools will be drawn to him and end up singing contemporary Christian music as a big group," Morton said. "It's just his passion, and it's infectious."

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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