Twenty five semifinalists advance in Dartmouth Idol

by Kourtney Kawano | 1/26/15 6:12pm

After a lengthy six-hour audition process and an even longer, nerve-racking deliberation period, the stage is set for the semifinals of the eighth annual Dartmouth Idol competition, which will be hosted in Spaulding Auditorium on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m.

In the opening round of competition last Sunday and early Monday, 70 undergraduate contestants flocked to Faulkner Recital Hall from 12 to 6 p.m. While the audition process for the popular reality television show “American Idol,” on which the competition is based, allows millions to view tryouts, auditions for Dartmouth Idol are intentionally a private affair. Only the panel of four judges — comprised of Dartmouth Idol founder and music director Walt Cunningham, production staff members Joshua Kol ’93, Kaitlyn Sheehan ’09 and vocal coach Janet Salter — were permitted in the audition room and given the sole responsibility of narrowing the field of 70 contestants to 25 semifinalists. Last year’s competition had 30 semifinalists.

Although still a competition, Cunningham said that Dartmouth Idol is an event that encourages diversity and musical interaction among the collective student body. The main goal of “Idol,” Cunningham said, is to find the talent that exists on campus and create opportunities for those students.

“Every year, I’m just so pleasantly shocked of the gifts that exist,” he said. “The biggest thing for students is to let us know that you’re out there.”

Salter, who was also a judge for Dartmouth Idol in 2012, echoed Cunningham’s statements.

“When we find that star, sometimes it can change a person’s life perspective for the better,” she said. “This event can really have a huge impact for the contestants.”

It was not until Monday afternoon that the judges had narrowed the pool of contestants to the 25 who would move on.

For their audition, contestants were asked to memorize and perform a cappella one verse and the chorus of song from any genre. Students could also perform an original song for the judges if they so desired. Neither were to exceed five minutes. This format gave the contestants the creative freedom to showcase their talents in a comfortable setting before testing their adaptation skills in the later rounds.

The panel of judges determined who would move on to the semi-final round based on each contestant’s vocal abilities, musicality and overall performance. These parameters ensure that the individual not only sings with superb rhythm and phrasing but also commands the stage with confidence.

Of the 25 semifinalists, 10 represent the Class of 2015, two are juniors, nine are sophomores and four are freshmen. This year’s semis will feature 11 experienced contestants who have already competed in past performances of Dartmouth Idol. Semifinalist Jeremy Whitaker ’15 placed third in 2013 and made it to the second round in 2014. Jamie Mercado ’15, Katelyn Onufrey ’15, David Clossey ’16 and Latika Sridhar ’16 will also make their third consecutive appearance as semifinalists next week. For 13 contestants, however, this will be a new and potentially thrilling experience altogether, as for some this may be the first time singing in front of a large crowd.

Jessica Kocan ’18 — a first-time semifinalist who auditioned with Scottish singer. Emeli Sandé’s “Read All About It” (2011) — is looking forward to pushing herself out of her comfort zone.

“I’m ecstatic and really thankful to have this opportunity,” Kocan said.

The semifinalists have just under a week to prepare for the second round, which consists of performing a song chosen from a karaoke list in front of a live audience.

Like “American Idol,” the semifinal round will feature an interactive judging process where each contestant’s score is an equally weighted combination of the judges’ scores and audience votes. As a result, only six finalists will move on to the third and final round.Joining Sheehan — a finalist in the 2009 Dartmouth Idol competition — in the judges’ panel for the semi-final round will be vocal coach and former Dartmouth glee club member Elizabeth Roberts ’00 and two other judges who have yet to be determined from the pool of applicants.

The winner of Dartmouth Idol receives a $500 prize and the opportunity to record a two-song demo. The second and third place winners will receive $250 and $100, respectively.

Dartmouth Idol is sponsored by the Hopkins Center for the Arts and the Office of the Provost.

Tickets to the semi-finals will cost $10 to the public and $5 to Dartmouth students. The 2015 Dartmouth Idol finals will be held in Spaulding Auditorium on March 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets will cost between $15 for regular admission and $5 for College students.