Laura León. Photo by Harry Wendt.
Wellington, Fla. – Feb 16, 2017 – It took a Cuban soprano singing an Italian aria to win American Equestrians Got Talent (AEGT) Wednesday night. When Laura Martinez León finished the final soaring notes of “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot,” the sold-out crowd erupted into cheers and applause and the 28-year-old walked away with the $1,000 prize provided by sponsor Patty Mayer and Bailiwick House along with the chance to complete for the $10,000 Grand Prize at the AEGT Grande Finale March 19.
AEGT Week VI finalists Tarek Chakib, Laura León, Alyssa Marie Coon and Cassie Ortiz.
Photo by Harry Wendt.
There’s a slight problem though: Leon has a part as the mother of a peasant in a new opera, “Before Night Falls,” at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami with the Florida Grand Opera that day, but she should be done by 2 p.m. and able to make the drive to Wellington in time for the event to be held at the International Arena at the Adequan Global Equestrian Center.

Robert Dover, the mastermind behind AEGT, a fundraiser for high-performance equestrian sports now in its third year, called the 5’2” León a powerhouse. The judges for Week VI of the event had nothing but praise. Ashwood Kavanna said she stopped the show and Shai Tertner called her super-talented. Opera buff Nicho Meredith was moved to tears and AEGT Honorary Chair P.J. Rizvi added, “I’m starting to feel like an underachiever the more I judge this show.”

Honorary Chair and AEGT judge, P.J. Rizvi. Photo by Harry Wendt.
León was appreciative but used her time in the spotlight to praise fellow competitors, including those who made it to the final round, Alyssa Marie Coon, Cassie Ortiz and Tarek Chakib.

“These people have great talent,” she said, adding that she wished she could sing like 12-year-old Coon when she was her age. “Be who you are and be the best you can be.

“You need to do what you do and do it the best and then, you will shine. That’s your strength. I think this competition in particular was very special because everyone had a very distinct talent and voice and they were doing a great job.”

Tarek Chakib. Photo by Harry Wendt.
AEGT was conceived by Dover, chef d’equipe for the United States Dressage Team, as a way to raise much needed funds for high-performance equestrian sports while showcasing the talents of the Wellington equestrian community and the surrounding area. Each contestant performs for a specific equestrian discipline and León chose dressage.

In the first round, she sang a light-hearted musical theatre piece demonstrating her range and versatility. Other talented AEGT performers who took the stage in the Grande Ballroom in Wellington included Reine Victome, Marlene Kurz, Alyssa Marie Coon, Rena Montero with the group Grown But Young, Cassie Ortiz, Charlie Tota with the Tota Comfort Band, and Tarek Chakib.

Cassie Ortiz. Photo by Harry Wendt.
León and her mother emigrated from Havana, Cuba, when she was 17. The rest of her family remains there. “Since we arrived here, it has to be that you have to make it,” she said. “There’s no going back. There’s no other option. I worked really hard to be where I am right now.”

She was in high school in Miami when her choir teacher asked what she planned to study in college. León had chosen microbiology, but her teacher suggested music. She attended her first musical and was hooked. “I remember I sat at the musical for three hours and I did not move,” she said. “I wanted to do that. Even if I am Tree #2, I want to be on stage.”

Alyssa Marie Coon. Photo by Harry Wendt.
She was hired by the Florida Grand Opera immediately after she completed her master’s degree in voice performance at Florida International University and she is completing the Young Artist program in which she is cast to do smaller roles in house. “This year, I have the good providence of singing Frasquita [in Bizet’s] ‘Carmen’ for two nights,” she said. She will finish her stint with the Florida Grand Opera in May and begin her solo career. “It’s going to be tough but I’m very excited.”

There are still three more audition dates before the March 19 Grande Finale, Feb.22, March 1 and March 8. You can attend the auditions and see León and the other talented finalists at the March 19 Grande Finale by contacting Patty Scott at (917) 318-0425 or

Laura León. Photo by Harry Wendt.