Live the dream: TopCats auditions and clinics on the horizon

The wonderful Richelle Williams, Cheerleader Manager/Choreographer, of the NFL’s Carolina TopCats lets us know Audition Clinics and Auditions are just days away!

The information about clinics is at this link and the audition information page is here.

‘If It Seems Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is’: Ex-NFL Cheerleader Almost Became a Victim of Sex Trafficking at Sochi Through Bogus Reporting Job

By Luke Garrat
The Daily Mail

An ex-NFL cheerleader-turned-sports journalist almost became a victim of human sex trafficking at the Sochi Olympics when she was recruited for a reporting job that turned out to be bogus.

Brittney Cason from Charlotte, North Carolina, was approached by a talent agent hiring U.S. reporters to cover the Winter Olympics last September.

Writing on xojane.com, she explained how she became suspicious when – after a lengthy application process – the ‘agent’ asked her if she had any ‘girlfriends’ she could take with her, offering them visas with no interview process, eventually prompting action from the FBI.

Ms Cason was contacted in September 2013 via her website by a man claiming to be a talent acquisition agent.

‘Given my background in sports broadcasting… and working on sports talk radio, it made sense he was recruiting me,’ she wrote.

Ms Cason was asked to submit examples of her work, and audition several times, before she was told that she had got the job with the network as a host and beat reporter for the games.

In addition to Ms Cason, she was told that another legitimate sportscaster in North Carolina was hired to work alongside her.

Her suspicions were raised two weeks before she was set to leave for Sochi, when the ‘talent agent’ said he needed to expand the coverage team and asked if she had any ‘girlfriends’ in the industry she could recommend.

His assistant, who was actually just him, sent her documents for her friend to get a work visa.

Ms Cason said: ‘I spent four months applying and interviewing and he’s sending my friend a work visa without even seeing her work?

‘Now, my friend is really talented, but wanting her passport and social security number before her reel (reporting and presenting clips) just seemed fishy to me.’

Ms Cason contacted the other sportscaster who was supposed to be going to Sochi with her and they investigated the talent agency further.

She said: ‘She and I concocted a plan to contact the production company in LA directly to check his credentials without stepping on his toes in the event we were just being paranoid.’

Upon their investigation it turned out that the production company didn’t know who he was, and advised them not to travel to Russia, and instead contact lawyers, who eventually contacted the F.B.I.

Ms Cason remarked how she was shocked at the amount of effort the ‘talent agent’ had put in to the scheme.

She said: ‘The man exerted as much effort as a full time job to pose as legitimate – and never once crossed the line.

‘Rather, he posed as a devout family man – We got the results back and suddenly needed the F.B.I.’

On the day that she was set to leave, bags packed and flights booked, Cason was instead negotiating with her lawyers and the F.B.I, as it turned out that the ‘talent acquisition agency’ was most likely a front for a sex trafficking ring.

According to Jillian Mourning, founder of the non-profit All We Want is Love, a charity that attempts to help victims of human trafficking, it is common for men to pose as talent agents in order to lure and traffic women.

Ms Cason said: ‘So many of the stories I’ve heard from survivors start with “I was hired for a modelling job”.’

Mourning told her: ‘The Olympics is a huge draw for trafficking.

‘It’s a major sporting event in a foreign country, and American women are typically sold for more in foreign countries.’

Ms Cason added: ‘Either way, this wasn’t going to end well.

‘Unfortunately I am not the daughter of Liam Neeson, so I wouldn’t have had a happy ending had I gotten on a plane.

‘For any young girl wanting to get into the business the first step is to seek a credible agent.

‘If you have to pay money for an audition, that’s a red flag for a business scam.’

Former East High Grad to Cheer at Pro Bowl

By Joey Millwood
BlueRidgeNow.com

When Laura Bebo was a cheerleader at East Henderson High, her focus was on one thing.

“When you’re in high school, you can’t see past Friday night,” she said.

That view has changed dramatically over the last three years. Not only is Bebo a cheerleader for the Carolina Panthers, but she’s heading to Hawaii to be in the NFL Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

As a high school cheerleader, the thought of cheering on Sundays never crossed her mind. It didn’t even cross her mind to audition for a collegiate team.

The 24-year-old graduated from East in 2007 and went to college at UNC Charlotte. At the encouragement of her friend, Jenny Baker, she tried out for the 49ers cheer team and ended up cheering on the Charlotte football team for the last three years of her schooling.

She graduated with degrees in environmental science and education, and is a science teacher at Brawley Middle, just north of Charlotte.

That’s one of her full-time jobs. Her other is being a TopCat.

Bebo has been a member of the TopCats for the last three years and was voted into the Pro Bowl by her teammates — one of the highest honors she has received.

“That’s the biggest honor,” Bebo said. “It’s an incredible feeling when your team thinks you’re worthy to go.”

And she is worthy, TopCat coach Richelle Williams said.

“Laura has demonstrated not only commitment and hard work, but a genuine passion for the Panthers organization and TopCats program,” Williams said. “I’m thrilled that Laura is representing the TopCats at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. The fans will love her.”

Bebo has worked hard to get to this point. She was a little more prepared about cheering at the next level when she was on the verge of graduating from Charlotte. Again encouraged by Baker, Bebo tried out for the Panthers’ squad in the spring of 2011.

That also happened to be her final semester of college and the semester she spent student teaching.

It was a busy semester. That busy schedule, however, got busier by the next fall. Bebo was teaching from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and then fulfilling duties as a TopCat all over Charlotte and has maintained that routine for the last three years.

There are appearances through the week, two practices per week and on Sunday, she’s cheering in front of more than 70,000 fans.

“It’s so similar and it’s totally different in the same way,” she said of cheering in front of that large of a crowd.

The nervousness on Friday nights was different because she knew so many faces in the crowd. The large crowd is actually a little more comforting, she said, because there’s “no way that everyone can be looking at you.”

A lot of people were watching the Panthers this weekend as Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and the team hosted the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in the second round of the NFC playoffs. The Panthers lost 23-10.

Bebo experienced the building excitement over the last three years. Her first year was also Newton’s first year with the franchise. This year, they made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

“It’s just abuzz,” she said in the weeks before the game. “People can’t stop talking about it. It starts with the team. It’s translated to the fans. We can feel it. We can feel the excitement.”

And that excitement is something that Bebo never wants to let go of. Officially, she can only cheer professionally for 10 years, but she likes to wish she could be a TopCat forever.

“We want to live and breathe TopCat life for as long as they’ll have us,” Bebo said.

[Laura at Panthers.com]

Photo of the Day – October 3

Photo of the Day - October 3
Current third year veteran Laura during her TopCat rookie season, October 2011

SI.com – NFL Cheerleaders: Preseason Week 1

Click here to check out the first Sports Illustrated NFL Cheerleader gallery of the season, featuring cheerleaders from the Falcons, Panthers, Colts, Vikings, Chargers and Bucs.

New-look TopCats

Individual bios for the 2013 Carolina Panthers dance team have been posted on the Panthers’ website. Click here to check them out!

And if I may editorialize for moment. I am totally digging on the new uniforms. I may have mentioned once or twice (or a hundred times) before that there are certain things I enjoy when it comes to uniforms: A ruffle. A bow. A scoop neck. A puff sleeve. Probably not all four at the same time, as that would be a little too Bo Peep. But with two out of the four, this is a solid double thumbs-up in my book. And has anyone else noticed this or has the beauty factor on this team been dramatically on the rise? I don’t know when it started, but there is something going on in the Carolinas, and I don’t think it’s in the water. Maybe they found a photographer with a real knack for capturing that inner sparkle. Whateva. I approve.

New-Look Topcats

    Check out the new team photo for the 2013-14 Carolina Panthers TopCats!

What Carolina Panthers’ Dance Team Auditions Taught Me About My Power

Candace Doby
The Change Blog

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” – Epictetus

I stood in line with 150 other girls who wanted the same thing I did—a spot on the TopCats dance team to cheer on National Football League’s Carolina Panthers from the sidelines.

Nineteen and 21-year-olds listened to tryout music in their earphones and spun their perfect, spray tanned, sequin adorned bodies into pirouettes as they practiced their first-round routines.

They appeared as though they had been dancing their entire lives unlike me who had only taken jazz classes one month prior to auditions. This observation simultaneously scared me and made me curious. I decided to explore the latter by asking the girl in front of me how long she had been dancing.

“Since I was four,” she replied.

What Am I Doing?

What the heck am I doing? I can’t compete with these girls. In an instant, I went from thinking I could make the team to knowing I wouldn’t get past the first round. I tried repeatedly to swallow my fear, but it stubbornly stayed stuck in my throat.

Though I’d never been a dancer, I always loved dancing. I dance around the house, in the car, in the park and on the beach. I dance everywhere I go, and it is this love of dancing that encouraged me to give the TopCats a go. I didn’t care that I wasn’t a trained dancer—until that moment in line when it dawned on me that I was approaching 30, my outfit lacked sparkle, and I didn’t have on the proper dance shoes.

I thought about leaving. I could just pretend like I forgot something in my car and never return. But Candace, that’s so unlike you. You’re going to quit before you start?

My conscious won the internal battle that ensued and persuaded me to stay. So there I was, waiting in line to compete for a spot on the 2011 TopCats team with girls who were more experienced, more flexible and younger than me. Great.

Round One

Round one came, and I was up. I had to perform a self-made routine in front of a panel of five judges, all of whom worked for the Panthers or were previous TopCats. For a split second, I considered how my routine, which I made up in my bedroom, would pale in comparison to dancers who had their dance teachers create theirs. But, I quickly refocused on doing the best job I could.

“Wait for the music,” one judge called out. In the next moment, a Timbaland song blared from the speakers. I waited for the right beat, and then danced my heart out.

It was over in two minutes, and I shuffled back to the holding room to see if my number would be called to move to the next round. I told myself it wouldn’t be in order to soften the blow if, indeed, it wasn’t.

But with every number called, I nervously looked down at my hip to see if it was mine.

“Forty-seven.” It was the last number announced in my group.

I slowly looked. Forty-seven? I’m number 47. Oh my goodness! I made it to the next round! I smiled from excitement, shook from disbelief, and cried from joy.

After gathering my belongings but before leaving the room, I looked around at the experienced dancers with perfect, sequin-adorned bodies who I had advanced beyond. You are more powerful than you know. That’s what the voice in my head told me. Next up, Round Two.

Round Two

I thought this would be the end of the road for me. I’m good at doing many things under pressure, but memorizing dance combinations in a short timeframe is not one of them. For Round Two, contestants were given 30 minutes to learn a real TopCats dance routine. At the end of the learning session, I looked exactly the same as I did at the beginning. Confused.

But once again, I took to the floor and danced my heart out, even though most of the moves were wrong. And once again, I shuffled back to the holding room to see if my number would be called to move to the semi-final round.

I was almost certain it wouldn’t be, but I still nervously looked down at my hip with each number called.

“Thirty-one.

Thirty-nine.

Forty-two.”

Deep breath.

“Forty-seven.”

That’s me!

I smiled. I shook. I cried. After gathering my belongings but before leaving the room, I looked around at the experienced dancers with perfect, sequin-adorned bodies who I had advanced beyond. You are more powerful than you know. Next up, Semi-Finals.

Semi-Finals

The competition was down to about 60 girls. For the semi-final round, we were given one week to learn a long, complex routine to Jennifer Lopez’s, “On the floor.” The dance included kicks, turns and leaps I had never done before, so I struggled through each practice. But I had come too far to not continue giving it my best effort. So, I showed up to extra practices and turned my bedroom into a mini rehearsal room. J.Lo’s song was on a serious loop. Finally, I felt like I had the moves down the night before the audition. I just needed to add sass.

During the tryout, I channeled Sasha Fierce, Beyonce’s alter ego. If I wasn’t going to make it to the next round, it wasn’t going to be because I wasn’t entertaining. I kicked as high as I could. I landed my turns and completed my leaps. It was over in four minutes.

This time we wouldn’t hear about the next round until the judges had a few days to deliberate. I waited anxiously, checking my email every few minutes to see if the announcement had been delivered to my inbox. A few afternoons later, it came. Subject: 2011 TopCats Finalists.

I opened the email with more trepidation than when I opened my college acceptance letter. I quickly scanned the names looking for mine. I didn’t see it. So, I scanned the email more slowly a second time.

Really?!

There it was. It glowed on the page. A girl with no formal dance training but a lot of passion had made it to the final round of the TopCats auditions.

I smiled. I shook. I cried. I let my mind wander. I thought about all of the experienced dancers with perfect, sequin-adorned bodies who I had advanced beyond. You are more powerful than you know. Next up, Finals.

Finals

The competition was down from 150 to 35 girls. During the final round, we got a taste of what it was like to be a TopCat. I had the opportunity to dance at the 2011 Carolina Panthers Draft Party and practice in the TopCats’ locker room. I also had to learn two new original dances to perform on audition day. They were hard—harder than the first two routines. But, again, I gave it my best shot.

During the final round, we got to dance with metallic blue TopCats pom poms. Holding them in my hands symbolized, “you’re almost there.”

I performed all four routines nearly back to back. I was more tired after finishing them than I was after finishing a 400-meter race during my college days. I left everything on the floor. I was proud of myself.

The Team Announcement

Once again, the judges took a few days to deliberate. And once again, I waited nervously for the final announcement to arrive in my inbox. When it did, I didn’t want to open it. I knew it meant the end or the beginning. For that moment, I wanted to stay stuck in the middle.

When I finally convinced myself to look at the list, I scanned it fast for the beginning of my name. I didn’t see it. So, I scanned it more slowly a second time. I still didn’t see it. I read every single name as slow as I could for a third time. It still wasn’t there.

I didn’t make the final squad.

I was one of 10 girls who got cut.

This was the end of my journey to become a TopCat, but the beginning to my lesson on power. I smiled. I shook. I cried. I quietly congratulated all of the dancers who made the team.
Lessons on Power

You are more powerful than you know. Even though I didn’t make the squad, the theme of power resounded as loudly as it did at the end of the audition process as it did in the beginning. And what I learned about power is this:

1. Perception is power. I perceived my age as a limitation in the audition process. I had nearly taken myself out of the game when I compared myself to the college-aged competitors standing ahead of and behind me. Thus, perception has the dual ability to render you powerless or powerful. This experience taught me that if ever I feel unable or unsure about something, I first need to check my perception about that thing because growth or decay is rooted in perception.

2. Passion is power. Passion trumps experience. Many of the girls I competed against had been receiving professional dance training since they were toddlers. My training started one month before auditions, but my deep-running passion for dancing helped me advance beyond several of them and carried me to the final round of competition. This experience taught me that passion is power. In this case, it was more coveted and respected than technique. It taught me that whatever I set out to do, I must do it with passion or risk defeating myself. I’ll bet anything that I beat out more than a few girls because they were more focused on their technique than exuding their passion for dancing.

3. Boldness is power. There were several times throughout the process that I wanted fear to win so I could settle back into the comfort of not being required to face it. But settling back into comfort also meant that I would never see how far I could go in the competition. This process taught me that fear, when entertained, prevents me from recognizing just how badass and powerful I am. It also helped me understand that boldness is a powerful weapon that cuts fear down. Boldness is simply the response to fear that requires you to lean into it, deal with it head on and accept the discomfort it causes. When boldness is harnessed, it helps me understand that I am bigger than fear. I am stronger than fear. And I am more powerful than I previously knew.

Power is in our perception, passion and boldness. Thank you TopCats for showing me my power.


About Candace Doby
Candace Doby is a sassy southern girl who translates everyday experiences into bold lessons. You can keep up with more of what Candace is thinking at 365Bold.com and on Facebook.

Video: TopCat Finals

Click here to check out some video of this year’s final auditions for the Carolina Panthers TopCats Cheerleaders. And if you missed semis, you can watch that here.

Congratulations to the ladies who made the team! Click the photo to view full size.

TopCats Final Audition Live, Tonight!

Monday Night Football may be a few months off, but Monday Night Auditions are here! Watch the TopCats Final Audition tonight on panthers.com beginning at 7:00 p.m!