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The Flex attracts local talent in a showcase that offers a breakthrough for young South Florida musicians.EXPAND
The Flex attracts local talent in a showcase that offers a breakthrough for young South Florida musicians.
Courtesy of the Flex

By and for Young Artists, the Flex Brings a Fresh Music Competition to Miami

Kalil Bohannon invested only $150 in the launch of his avant-garde music showcase. It took place in an empty parking lot at Florida International University. Only 40 people showed up for the outdoor open mike composed of a tent, lights strung on a wall, and a few strewn-about tables. "It wasn't that great," Bohannon recalls. "I thought it went terribly. But the people who showed up, they loved it. They saw the vision, what I was trying to do."

That was two years ago. Today the asphalt slab has been replaced by the upscale gloss of the Open Stage Club, a swanky Coral Gables venue that hosts the Flex, an annual music competition organized by Bohannon and his team of five.

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That original audience of 40, made up of mostly friends, has also sizably expanded. A hundred or so attendees and many of Miami's undiscovered emerging artists are among those who participate in each show. The Flex offers a stage for young, local voices keen to climb in their careers. "A lot of people acknowledge the fact that [in Miami] people are not as quick to help each other out. And the cultural environment is not as cohesive as, say, in L.A. or Atlanta," Bohannon says. But he wouldn't know for sure, he adds, because he's never visited those cities. What he can say with certainty is that Miami possesses unlimited talent and needs a bridge to connect like-minded artists.

Music teacher by day and freelance percussionist by night, millennial Bohannon has linked his passion for the arts to a business venture that addresses this missing cultural connection for new artists in the 305. By bringing aspiring young musicians together, he has inadvertently created a network that unites people with shared desires and enthusiasm.

But make no mistake: The easygoing 25-year-old is not on a crusade. An artist himself, he's simply having fun with the Flex as it progresses. And, he admits, his idea originated from an aversion to long drives. "All the cool open mikes and cultural stuff was up in North Miami. And I personally didn't want to drive 30, 45 minutes to go do stuff. I wanted something in my own backyard... So I made my own [showcase] for my side of town."

Since the competition's inception, Bohannon's vision for it has blossomed into something indefinitely larger. Its success has shown the founder how much Miami needed a community where relatively unknown musicians could link up and create together. He'd like the Flex to eventually expand to other parts of the nation, but not as the talent showdown it is today. The young visionary sees the event morphing into a music festival by 2020,
much like Wynwood's III Points.

Plans for evolution aside, the Flex remains a newfangled alternative competition that's midway through its third season. Seasons comprise four shows; the first three are preliminary rounds. The concept is not unlike that of popular televised competitions such as The Four and America's Got Talent. Finalists of each round face off for a winner-takes-all championship in the fourth and final show. The victor is awarded prizes such as recording sessions and music video shoots. In many ways, it's the perfect opportunity for someone just getting started or seeking to break into an otherwise cutthroat, financially draining industry.

The Flex got its start as an open mike in an FIU parking lot. Two years later, it's a highly anticipated talent competition at the glossy Open Stage Club.
The Flex got its start as an open mike in an FIU parking lot. Two years later, it's a highly anticipated talent competition at the glossy Open Stage Club.
Courtesy of the Flex

"We pick all the dopest artists we've rounded out through the year and we invite them to come out, and it's just one huge production," Bohannon says. Contestants for each round are either handpicked by Bohannon or Raquel Ramirez, the competition's creative director, or invited to attend through Instagram call-outs. Their DMs have been flooded with messages from eager would-be participants, Bohannon reveals. Hip-hop artists seem most likely to gravitate toward the competition, but its creator desires a more diverse, cosmopolitan vibe.

Country crooners probably won't find their audience here — the first-season winner, Zorenzo, is an R&B singer, and the second-season champ, Teddy B., is a Latin-trap artist — but Bohannon won't rule out any kind of musical sensation. Specifically, he encourages more "weird acts... people who play exotic instruments, like cellos, or more music duos. I'm really open to anything."

Season three's winner will be decided by a three-judge panel April 28, 2019, and receive a music video shoot, recording session, and podcast interview. Aside from those perks, the prestige of winning is a massive plus that plugs up-and-comers into a network of creators. The Flex isn't just another talent event; it's one of South Florida's recherché showcases, facilitating a space honoring and unifying progressive, ultramodern talent.

"Every show, we say, 'Find your —' and point the microphone at everyone else, and they say, 'Flex.' What we mean by that is, your flex is your pride. It's your passion; it's whatever you wear on your sleeve," Bohannon says. The concept expands past the target audience because the energy itself doesn't have to be music-based. "It's about whatever you contribute, bring to the table, improve the life of others. That's your flex."

The Flex. 8 p.m. to midnight January 20, 2019, at House Roots, 4400 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-456-0018; miamikava.com. Tickets cost $10.

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