Eighteen nurses from the Northwell Health system have found themselves across the country on the “America’s Got Talent” stage, performing for millions of Americans and four judges as the Northwell Health Nurse Choir. Many described feeling chills down their back, or a tear down their cheek, as they watched the Northwell Health Nurse Choir perform “You Will Be Found” on Aug. 18.
And three of those nurses are from Manhasset’s North Shore University Hospital; Janelle Garcia, a hematology-oncology nurse, Keshia Jaboin, an assistant nurse manager, and Christian Montanez, a float registered nurse.
The singing nurses, according to the Northwell Health website, got their start as a choir in 2020 when they gathered virtually to support Nurse Heroes — a nonprofit that works to raise awareness about the nursing field and raise funds for scholarships for nursing students. The signing nurses did not know each other before joining their voices together to support Nurse Heroes, as they all worked at different hospitals throughout the Northwell Health system.
But the power of music, as well as nurse solidarity, would help them form a special bond.
In June, the Northwell Health Nurse Choir appeared in an audition on season 16 of “America’s Got Talent,” performing “Lean On Me.”
“We need you, the world needs you,” “America’s Got Talent” judge Simon Cowell said. “It’s going to touch many people. People are going to remember this audition. I’m going to remember this audition.”
The choir’s two performances landed them into the semi-finals.
The Manhasset Press had the chance to speak with North Shore University Hospital nurses Garcia, Jaboin and Montanez about their journey thus far.
Manhasset Press: Please tell me about what you do at North Shore University Hospital.
Janelle Garcia: [My unit] deals with cancer patients, primarily blood cancer like leukemia and lymphoma. I’m like the baby of the group. So when I started, it was around January when COVID was just starting.
Keshia Jaboin: I’m an assistant nurse manager at North Shore University Hospital and I work with the postpartum unit… I’ve been a nurse for about seven years now. It’s just been a wonderful and humbling and rewarding experience and I love it. I grew up singing in church my entire life… I’m happy I was able to do both, singing and my job as a nurse at the same time. It’s just been a wonderful experience so far and I’m just happy and humbled to be a part of it. I love to travel as well, so it’s just a wonderful ride. Traveling for the audition was my first time traveling since COVID.
Christian Montanez: I’m trained in a few different specialties, so I can pretty much go wherever I’m needed. So as a float nurse, you kind of walk into work not knowing where you are going. Whereas nurses like Janelle and Keshia have a set floor or a unit or a specialty that they go to every day. I come from a family of nurses and one of my passions is music. I play guitar, I sing and I play at restaurants and bars and fortunately I was able to hop on this opportunity to be a part of the choir.
Manhasset Press: How did this group help get you through the pandemic?
Janelle Garcia: I got COVID around March, so during that time I couldn’t really sing for a couple of months. The opportunity to sing with a group of nurses who understood what I was going through. It was really relieving and it was wonderful to know that I could still sing after everything we’ve been through. It was my light and my source of hope. I just hope that when people watch us they can also get a sense of calm and peace that I feel when I’m with them.
Manhasset Press: What does practice look like during a pandemic?
Christian Montanez: In the initial stages we were rehearsing over Zoom. When we got together it was a year after New York was the epicenter. So things were not as bad… At first we were meeting through Zoom and we were working on technique, talking about song choice and getting to know each other through Zoom. I felt like that was an important part because when you’re in a choir and you’re on stage, people can tell how you are feeling, how you are clicking with the person next to you… When we actually got together, it was actually hard because we had our PPE (personal protective equipment) on while we were singing.
Manhasset Press: What was going through your mind during the audition for “America’s Got Talent?”
Christian Montanez: All of us were so excited, some of us were nervous, but we understood what our message was. That was the most important thing. No matter how awesome of a choir we are, we know that we have a message… if you compare the first song and the song that we sang [on Tuesday], basically the overall message is even though nurses and health care workers and everybody around the world were in such a dark place because of COVID and the pandemic, no matter what you always have to find the light and the hope in situations like this. Because what else can you do? You can’t sit around and mope and say ‘oh my gosh this is the worse time of my life.’ We still have to go and take care of our patients and wake up and do our jobs. We still have to try to spread some positivity and educate people to follow the science.
Keshia Jaboin: In the time of COVID, underneath all that PPE, sometimes you just feel unseen, right? Like you’re by yourself. But, you’re not alone. We were all together. We were all brought into this choir together. The first [audition] was scary, it was surreal. But the best thing was I had 17 other nurses on that stage with me that knew exactly what we went through, together.
Manhasset Press: What would you like to say to the North Shore University Hospital community?
Christian Montanez: I want to thank everyone at North Shore University Hospital, especially the leadership and staff, for being supportive. Right after we performed we went on social media with dozens of messages from people telling us how amazing we are, that we made them cry and that they were going to vote for us.