SPECIAL TOPCATS: making family

CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – During the month of March, Queen City News followed four prospects as they tried out for the Carolina Panthers cheerleading squad, The TopCats.

The semi-finals and the first two days of the finals were held at Harding University High School in Charlotte. The Carolina Panthers donated money to the high school this year to use their facilities.

The final day of the TopCats Finals took place at Bank of American Stadium in downtown Charlotte.

During the active trials, the two weekends lasted three days each, approximately four to five hours a day. The weekend of the semi-finals lasted around 12-14 hours and the finals lasted around 12-14 hours.

Active trials did not include the countless hours participants practiced alone.

Over 650 people signed up for the TopCats auditions. Of these 650 people, 127 were invited to the final. Of the 127, 78 were selected for the final.

The Queen City News crews were there with the TopCats finalists for dozens of hours as we followed their journey trying to make the Topcats family.

After Finals weekend, all of the veterans who auditioned ended up making the team that season and a total of 30 were selected for the team. TopCats shared their 2022 roster here.

Chandalae Lanouette Panthers Entertainment Manager


Semi-final judges are primarily coaches from college dance/cheer/stomp n’ shake teams from North and South Carolina. In this round, I need to know if you can quickly transform the material and run it from our technical standards, and they have a great and diverse eye for that.

Finals judges are a diverse group of employees from across the Panthers organization (from trainees to owners). This step clarifies who is the right candidate for the 2022 team.

Chandalae Lanouette

Annalize Coleman

Annalize is from the military town of Jacksonville, North Carolina. Her supporting family includes her father who served in the military, her mother who is a teacher, and her younger sister.

She has been dancing since the age of 3, where she danced in competition for the Jacksonville Dance Theater and Fox Troupe Dancers.

Annalize graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2016 with a double major in public health education and dance. At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she was a member of the dance team and captain. She also studied with professors Duane Cyrus, Janet Lily and Lindsey Howie.

Currently, Annalize is a professional cheerleader and has performed at the Super Bowl and ProBowl, as well as on various overseas tours.

She is a K-4 dance teacher at KIPP Change Academy, a charter school in Charlotte, where she created her first dance team. The dance team has performed at many Hornets events and games!

In her spare time, she enjoys teaching her “Bounced by Annalize” trampoline fitness class and spending time with family and friends.

Rockii Nelson

Rockii had dreamed of becoming TopCat since she was a young girl. Being able to touch many lives and be a great role model for the community are some of the many reasons she wanted to be TopCat.

Rockii Nelson hails from Spartanburg, South Carolina and recently graduated from Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in dance performance while studying theater. She is now the director of Spirit Squad and head coach at Winthrop University while coaching, choreographing and teaching other dance teams.

Rockii wishes to continue his career as a performer while obtaining his master’s degree. By using the
tools in dance and theater allow Rockii to work with people of various ages and backgrounds while pursuing his passion for the arts.

Jaleel’s cheek

Born and raised in Lexington, North Carolina, Jaleel Cheek has cultivated his passion for dance since the age of seven. In his hometown studio, Jaleel began taking technique classes in high school and later studied dance and performance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Under the guidance of teachers such as Robin Gee and Duane Cyrus, Jaleel’s exposure to different dance styles grew and his dancing lifestyle began to flourish. Over time Jaleel has studied and embraced many dance genres including jazz, contemporary, acrobatic, hip hop, vogue and majorette.

The opportunities to share the stage with professional Drag Queen contestants from VH1’s RuPauls Drag Race have made him a seasoned performer who leaves audiences wanting more. While collaborating with other skilled artists, Jaleel even appeared in TV shows such as Vybz Dance vol. 4 and America’s Got Talent season 13, gaining local and national exposure.

Working with companies like SAY WHAT ENTERTAINMENT and PRYSM Management has given Jaleel the chance to network with other professional dancers while honing his craft as an all-around performer and leader.

Jaleel is currently on tour with Amazon Prime Personality and Drag Race Legend MoHeart where he specializes as a lead dancer and oversees the production of tour choreography.

His dynamism is endless, he continues to grow as an artist on a daily basis. With her overflowing passion for dance, Jaleel hopes to create an international company that will inspire the world with her innovative choreography, unparalleled style and appreciation for dance education.

Since the tests

Although the goal was to make the TopCats, I quickly returned to the lab to create more dream magic. Being a choreographer for professional drag queens definitely requires a full program of dedication and creation.

Since the auditions, I have worked extensively alongside Televisions International Star, MoHeart. We have completed two West Coast tours and have just returned to the States to complete our second Canadian tour. I am extremely grateful for these opportunities and look forward to many more. The UK is next on my list!

Jaleel’s cheek

Taylor Railton

Taylor is originally from Bermuda and now lives in Huntersville with her fiancé. Taylor has been dancing since she was six and fell in love with it at thirteen.

Since then, she has studied and performed around the world, including Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, Utah and North Carolina, and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from SUNY Purchase College in New York.

She had the chance to perform in all dance styles and always looked forward to the day when she could audition for the Topcats.

In her spare time, Taylor enjoys working out, discovering new cafes, playing with her cat Nitro and being with family.

Since the tests

The biggest news I have since the tryouts is that I got engaged!! My fiancé planned it perfectly because I was afraid I wouldn’t make the team and a few days later my whole family from Bermuda was at my house and my – then boyfriend – was on his knees.

It completely turned my world upside down and reminded me how lucky I am, even in difficult times. Apart from that, I worked, worked and danced! I follow all the current Topcats on social media so I’ve been following them and can’t wait to see them shine on the field!

Taylor Railton

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