Dartmouth Idol creates a space for collaborative student talent

by Veronica Winham | 3/1/19 2:15am

Six of the 22 Dartmouth Idol semi-finalists have advanced to the Dartmouth Idol finals, which will be held on Friday, March 1 at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. This unique opportunity allows students to compete and showcase their abilities. Additionally, the audience is responsible for voting on the winner, making the production even more entertaining. 

While these high stakes allow for a strong level of competition, every semi-finalist that was available for interview all shared one thing in common (besides, of course, a love for music): camaraderie. In each interview, the contestants talked about how Dartmouth Idol is, above all else, a group production, something that they are excited to share together. 

“I don’t even think of it as a competition, but as six people working together. We’re doing duets together, we’re doing group numbers together, [we’re] working to put on a show that shows off to Dartmouth and the greater Hanover and Upper Valley community,” said Alice Bennett ’20, a member of the Dartmouth Sings.

 “There should be healthy competition in terms of growing, but there shouldn’t be competition in terms of tearing people down. Singing and creating music should be a collective effort; it should be about bringing art to the world and blessing people’s lives,” added Nashe Mutenda ’20. Mutenda, the newly elected president of the Dodecaphonics, also sings and plays the violin for the Barbary Coast Ensemble.

This team effort and collective talent did not go unnoticed by Walt Cunningham, the director and founder of Dartmouth Idol.

“We all produce this great event and the focus is to unite people … to work collaboratively and as a team. The students and the finalists are all in awe of one another. And so, I watch them watching each other practice, and you can just see their eyes light up with excitement at the other person’s ability,” Cunningham said.

Bennett and Mutenda, two of six finalists, will be competing alongside Torrance Johnson ’19, Noah Drazen ’20, Raleigh Nesbitt ’19, and Caitlin Wanic ’21. The show will feature solos, duets and group performances, along with dancers and a live band, composed of more students than have been involved in previous years. This depth allows for more variety in the types of performances that will be seen on Friday night.

“These students navigate what is almost impossible, putting together this crazy show in three weeks … we’re doing some of the biggest hits that are out right now. I’m excited that Dartmouth Idol is on the pulse of what’s happening in pop culture,” said Cunningham, adding that while he didn’t want to give too much away, the show will feature a song that was performed at last weekends’ Oscars.

In addition to contemporary songs, Dartmouth Idol will also exhibit a variety of genres. For instance, Mutenda will be performing a version of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Summertime” in the style of Fantasia Barrino, the winner of the third season of American Idol.

“[Fitzgerald and Barrino’s] versions of ‘Summertime’ [are] just so beautiful, and they just pay so much respect to the history of black music and black jazz, and I feel so lucky that I get to do that through Dartmouth Idol,” Mutenda said.

The diversity in mediums — genres of music — as well as opportunities for students to assist, if not perform, are reasons why Dartmouth Idol is consistently such a popular event on campus.

“It brings people together and it also exposes you to parts of campus and people on campus that you wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to see and listen to,” Bennett said.

Drazen, one of the finalists, expressed that he is excited to show the Dartmouth community the level of vocal talent present at Dartmouth.

“We’re at such a small school for us to have so many great singers. At just over 4,000 [students], that’s pretty unbelievable,” said Drazen. Drazen is a musician in the band Shark and also performs with the Dartmouth Aires, like his father used to when he attended Dartmouth.

In addition to having so much talent involved in the show and behind the scenes, Dartmouth Idol provides relief to its audience members during week nine of winter quarter.

“I think Idol is important because it gives students an opportunity to do something other than school, and [it’s] another thing for students to look forward to and motivate them through the term,” said Wanic. Wanic is a member of the Dodecaphonics and will be performing a duet with Drazen.

The Dartmouth Idol finals will allow the audience to determine the winner, but more importantly engage in a collaborative, supportive performance that does not happen often, if at all, at similar college venues. 

Drazen summarized this idea best: “Dartmouth Idol is a fantastic way to show off the ability that Dartmouth has to put on a show that is not only spectacular, but also diverse,” Drazen said. “I don’t know of really any other school that does something like this and has done it for so long; it’s a tradition now.”