CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) – During the month of March, WJZY followed four hopefuls as they tried out for the Carolina Panthers’ cheerleading team, The TopCats.

The semifinals and the first two days of finals were held at Harding University High School in Charlotte. The Carolina Panthers donated money to the high school this year in order to utilize their facility.

The final day of TopCats’ finals was held at Bank of American Stadium in uptown Charlotte.

During active tryouts, both weekends were three days each, about four to five hours each day. Semis weekend was about 12 to 14 hours long, and Finals were roughly 12 to 14 hours long.

Active tryouts did not include the countless hours participants practiced on their own.

More than 650 people registered for TopCats auditions. Of those 650 people, 127 were invited to the finals. Among the 127, 78 were selected for the finals.

WJZY crews were there with the TopCats finalists for dozens of hours as we followed their journey trying out to make the Topcats’ family.

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

Panthers Entertainment Manager Chandalae Lanouette

THE JUDGING PROCESS

Semifinals judges are mostly coaches from collegiate dance/cheer/stomp n’ shake teams in North and South Carolina. In this round, I need to know if you can turn around the material quickly and execute it from our technical standards, and they have a great, diverse eye for that.

Finals’ judges are an assorted group of staff from all over the Panthers Organization (from interns to owners). This stage narrows down who the right fit for the 2022 team is.

Chandalae Lanouette

Annalise Coleman

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

She has been dancing since was 3 years old, where she competitively danced for Dance Theater of Jacksonville and Fox Troupe Dancers.

Annalise graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2016 with a dual 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 under professors Duane Cyrus, Janet Lily, and Lindsey Howie.

Currently, Annalise is a professional cheerleader and performed at the Super Bowl and ProBowl, and on various overseas tours.  

She is a kindergarten-fourth grade dancer teacher at KIPP Change academy a charter school in Charlotte where she started their first dance team. The dance team has performed at many events and Hornets games!

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

Rockii Nelson

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

Rockii Nelson is from Spartanburg South Carolina and a recent graduate of Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

She received her B.A. in Dance Performance while minoring in Theater. She now serves as the Spirit Squad Director and Head Coach at Winthrop University while also coaching, choreographing, and instructing other dance teams.

Rockii wants to continue her performing career while obtaining her master’s degree. Using the
tools in dance and theatre allow Rockii to work with people of various ages and backgrounds while pursuing her passion for the arts.

Jaleel Cheek

Born and raised in Lexington, North Carolina, Jaleel Cheek has fostered his passion for dance since age seven. In his hometown studio, Jaleel began taking technique classes during high school and went on to study Dance and Performance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 

Under the instruction of professors such as Robin Gee and Duane Cyrus, Jaleel’s exposure to different dance styles grew, and his lifestyle as a dancer began to thrive. Over time, Jaleel has studied and embraced many genres of dance including jazz, contemporary, acrobatics, hip hop, vogue, and majorette.

Opportunities to share the stage with Professional Drag Queen contestants of VH1’s RuPauls Drag Race have made him a seasoned entertainer that leaves an audience wanting more. While collaborating with other skilled entertainers, Jaleel has even appeared on television shows such as Vybz Dance vol. 4 and America’s Got Talent season 13, gaining both 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 a well-rounded performer and leader. 

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

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

Since Tryouts

Although the goal was to make the TopCats, I quickly went back in the lab to create more dream magic. Being a choreographer for professional drag queens definitely demands a full schedule of dedication and creation.

Since auditions, I have been heavily working along side Televisions International Star, MoHeart. We’ve completed two west coast tours, and we just returned to the states finishing our second Canadian Tour. I am extremely thankful for these opportunities, and looking forward to many many more. The UK is next on my list! 

Jaleel Cheek

Taylor Railton

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

Since then, she has studied and performed around the world including in LA, London, San Francisco, Utah, and North Carolina, as well as obtaining her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at SUNY Purchase College in New York.

She has been lucky enough to perform in all dance styles and has always looked forward to the day she was able to audition for the Topcats.

In Taylor’s free time she enjoys working out, discovering new coffee shops, playing with her cat Nitro, and being with family. 

Since Tryouts

The biggest news I have since tryouts is that I got engaged!! My fiancé planned it perfectly as I was down about not making the team and a couple of days later my entire family from Bermuda was at my house and my – then boyfriend- was down on one knee.

It completely flipped my world around and I was reminded of how lucky I am in even the hard times. Other than that, I have been working, working out, and dancing! I follow all of the current Topcats on social media so I have been keeping up with them and I can’t wait to see them shine on the field! 

Taylor Railton