Tara Joshi ’18 named as 2015 Dartmouth Idol winner

by Kourtney Kawano | 3/8/15 7:30pm

Dartmouth Idol finalists performed songs ranging from jazz classics to Michael Jackson to Beyonce on Friday night.
by Trevelyan Wing and Trevelyan Wing / The Dartmouth

After six finalists gave crowd-pleasing performances before a sold-out audience in Spaulding Auditorium on Friday, Tara Joshi ’18 was crowned the 2015 Dartmouth Idol first-place winner after performing songs by artists ranging from Gloria Estefan to Aretha Franklin. She earned a $500 prize and a chance to record a two-song demo, while Charli Fool Bear-Vetter ’15 won $250 for second place and Danny Rogers ’15 won $100 for third.

“It was such a fun show,” Joshi said. “It feels crazy that I won, but it was the coolest experience to perform with people who love to sing as much as I do.”

Under the direction of Dartmouth Idol founder Walt Cunningham, the eighth annual competition celebrated “Origins: Legends and the Bands that Launched Them” and featured the six finalists who each had just over a month to prepare for three songs — one solo and two duets — since advancing past the semifinal round held on Feb. 3rd.

While the competitors were familiar with performing on stage in Spaulding for an audience and a panel of judges, the finals had a different atmosphere altogether as each of the finalists were accompanied by a live 20-piece band, which included Cunningham on piano and keyboard, as well as back-up singers and dancers comprised of talented Dartmouth alumni and current students.

The event, Cunningham said, is truly “a labor of love” by the contestants and the production staff.

“It’s such a tough thing to do in this tight time frame,” he said. “Seeing the audience appreciate all the work we put into it is great confirmation.”

Following their successful comedic performance in the semifinal round, Deby Guzman-Buchness ’15 and Harrison Perkins ’18 returned to co-host the finals and did not disappoint in finding new ways to liven the audience in preparation for each finalist’s performance. The 2014 Dartmouth Idol winner, Phoebe Bodurtha ’15 joined Kaitlyn Sheehan Ramirez ’09 , Marcus Reid ’18 and Elizabeth Andrews Roberts ’00 behind the judges’ desk.

To give the audience a chance to learn more about each of the finalists before he or she performed in the solo round, Cunningham and his production team filmed short clips of each finalist speaking about what influenced their decision to attend Dartmouth. In their videos, all of the finalists spoke about finding a sense of community among the student body.

Showing off her energetic personality, Audrey Djiya ’17 opened with an upbeat mash-up of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” (2014) and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” (1966).

After capturing the audience’s hearts in the semifinal round with Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” (2014), Chris Yih ’17 followed with a passionate performance of Smith’s song “Lay Me Down” (2014).

Next, Joshi took to the stage and commanded the audience’s attention with her mash-up of Gloria Estefan’s “Mi Tierra” (1993), a song that Joshi said represents her love for Latin music, and Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” (1983).

The solo performance, Joshi said, was a bit nerve-racking.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” Joshi said. “But after the solo round, I knew I was just going to have so much fun in the second round.”

Danielle Piacentile ’17 sang Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s “Don’t Forget Me” (2012) from the television show “Smash” (2012).

“It’s always difficult performing for a large crowd, but it was so much fun,” Piacentile said. “The production team always gives a vote of confidence right before we perform.”

Inspired by Annie Lennox’s 2015 Grammy Awards cover performance with Hozier, Fool Bear-Vetter performed Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” (1956), garnering rounds of applause and snaps when audience members heard the opening piano chords by Cunningham.

“I signed up right away after watching Lennox’s performance,” Fool Bear-Vetter said. “I thought I could do a lot with the song acting- and singing-wise.”

Rogers closed the solo round with his mash-up of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” (2014) and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” (2013).

“I was so happy to be able to jump around and dance for my solo,” Rogers said.

After a short intermission to allow the finalists to change their costumes, Rogers and Yih opened the duet round and honored the King of Pop with The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” (1970) and Michael Jackson’s posthumous single “Love Never Felt So Good” (2014).

Celebrating Stevie Nicks, Fool Bear-Vetter and Dijya paired together for their duet mash-up of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (1977), Nicks and Don Henley’s “Leather and Lace” (1981) and Nicks’ single “Edge of Seventeen” (1981).

Dressed up as a pair of two old Hollywood-style stars, Joshi and Piacentile joined together for a rendition of the Duke Ellington’s jazz song “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (1940).

Fool Bear-Vetter and Yih returned to the stage for their second duet of the night with a tribute to Sting and The Police with “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” (1981), “Roxanne” (1978) and “She’s Too Good For Me” (1993).

Fool-Bear Vetter said singing duets with Dijya and Yih was very fun because they were generous duet partners.

“I already admired them so much before being paired with them,” Fool Bear-Vetter said. “We were lucky enough to have voices that went well together and it was just a very valuable experience.”

After watching a “Soul Train” episode of Smokey Robinson and Arethra Franklin singing “Ooo Baby Baby” (1965), Rogers suggested singing the ballad for his duet with Joshi. With Rogers and Joshi’s composed harmonies and smooth blend, the performance garnered praise from both the audience and the judges, namely from Bodurtha, who called it her favorite performance of the night.

Joshi said that the audience’s energy during the duet made it more fun to sing and helped them connect during the performance.

Dijya and Piacentile ended the duet round with a daring medley of Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé songs, including “Love On Top,” (2011) “Crazy In Love,” (2003) “End of Time,” (2012) “Bootylicious,” (2001) “Independent Women Part I” (2000) and “Halo” (2009).

Idol co-producer and the Hopkin’s Center’s director of student performances Joshua Kol said he couldn’t be happier with the finalists’ performances.

“The contestants did exactly what they meant to do,” Kol said. “They were all fantastic and the audience loved it.”

While the finalists were determined in the semifinal round based on an equal percentage of the judges’ combined scores and audience votes, the results in the final round were based solely on audience votes. Following the end of the duet round, audience members were allowed to vote for their top two finalists using color-assigned ballots: blue for Dijya, orange for Fool Bear-Vetter, yellow for Joshi, green for Yih, pink for Piacentile and red for Rogers.

In less than 20 minutes, the votes were counted and Cunningham announced the top three finishers.

This year’s vote total, Cunningham said, was very close.

“There was no clear frontrunner,” Cunningham said. “I think the results are indicative of how well they all did.”

Rogers said placing third felt great, but what made the experience more memorable was performing for his parents, who had never heard him sing live before the finals.

In her third year as a contestant in Idol, Fool Bear-Vetter said it felt good to have a satisfying outcome as the second-place finisher and share it with her mother and brother, who flew from Porcupine, North Dakota to join her for her final appearance in the competition.

“It makes me feel so comfortable and safe to have them here with me,” Fool Bear-Vetter said.

Participating in Dartmouth Idol, Joshi said, taught her the importance of trusting herself.

“I used to be afraid of belting high notes,” Joshi said. “But [Cunningham] taught me how to be strong and trust my gut.”

Before sending the audience home and giving the finalists a chance to celebrate with their friends and families, the back-up vocalists and members of the judges panel performed a closing number together, helping to bring the event’s theme full circle and end another year’s Dartmouth Idol.