Dartmouth Idol semifinals feature new and returning performers

by Sathvika Korandla | 1/31/20 2:00am


The semifinals of the 13th Dartmouth Idol will take place tonight in Spaulding Auditorium. The show will feature 29 Dartmouth students who were chosen based on an a capella audition out of more than 80 students.

Walt Cunningham, the director and founder of Dartmouth Idol, said he is excited to see the students perform since there is a large balance between new and returning contestatnts. 

“It makes the job worthwhile,” Cunningham said. “My biggest excitement is seeing the student who has never spoken on a mic, or the student who has never sung in front of a group go in front of all those people and perform. It’s those experiences that are transformative for the student.” 

Cunningham also said that for the past few years, the number of students auditioning has gone up, so there was no set limit on how many students could become semifinalists this time. For many students, Dartmouth Idol is also a program which they participate in more than once during their college career. One of the semifinalists, Vi Alvord ’20, said they auditioned for Dartmouth Idol every year and also made it to the semifinals last year. 

Making it from semifinals to finals is harder every year, as partipation and competition increases. Since only six contestants will move on, the audience plays an important role in the semifinals. Their votes, in addition to judges’, decide which of the semifinalists will make it to the finals, which will be held Friday, March 6. The first-place finisher will receive a $500 prize, while the second and third-place finishers will receive $250 and $100, respectively. In addition, the winner also has the opportunity to record demo tracks in a studio. Cunningham said that sometimes students who didn’t necessarily win were also offered the opportunity to record some tracks in the studio as well. 

Cunningham also said that each year, the number of students who participate in the show through hosting, dancing, singing backup and filming increases as Dartmouth Idol gains popularity, so that anyone interested in other aspects of the production can be a part of the whole experience.  

“Being a part of the Dartmouth Idol production for so long — being in the background, being in the semis — it sort of gives you a tight connection with the people who are on that journey with you ... even if you don’t win Dartmouth Idol, you still have a chance to be a part of the group of people who sings the background vocals and you’re still a part of the show and there’s still opportunities,” Alvord said. 

Cunningham describes seeing students who were part of the show in previous years, such as Alvord, returning this year as “sheer joy.” Alvord attributes coming back each year to the experience they have gained through being one of the co-presidents of the Dartmouth Rockapellas and a part of the student leadership for the Dartmouth Gospel Choir. They said these groups raised their confidence, and that “without them, I wouldn’t have come back to try auditioning for Dartmouth Idol for a second, third or fourth time.”

While some of the semifinalists, like Alvord, are part of a capella groups on campus, many students in Dartmouth Idol are not part of performance or musical groups, due to other commmitments on campus. However, Dartmouth Idol fills the gap for those who wish to have the experience of being in a intensive production without the year-round time commmitment.

“I always wanted to sing on campus and perform with others — something of that nature,” said semi-finalist Will Shepherd ’23, who maintains a busy academic and athletic schedule. “It’s a great opportunity to put yourself out there, because I’ve never had that musically.”  

Shepherd did not have an extensive musical background prior to Dartmouth Idol, and this is one of the reasons why he wanted to try out his freshman year. 

“When you take a student who says, ‘I’ve never done this,’ and then they walk off the stage and they feel a sense of accomplishment and they feel confidence — that to me is the reason why Dartmouth Idol exists,” Cunningham said.

To help students who have never performed in front of a large audience, Cunningham works with each musician during individualized practice time and gives advice on how to best approach the lyrics and mood of their song.  

“[Cunningham] pushes and encourages us,” Alvord said. “He says, ‘Even if you don’t think you’ll make it, you should still do it because it’s a great experience and you’ll never know what you’ll find.’ He’s been so great to all of us ... [He] helped us find our individual niches within singing.”

Gia Kim ’22 auditioned last year but did not make it to semifinals. This year, she recalled how Cunningham’s encouragment during her audition gave her more confidence.

“Walt was telling me things like, ‘Try holding that note longer’ or, ‘Try this,’ and even that made a lot of change,” Kim said, adding that these tips helped her to realize she was capable of having a wider range than she initially thought possible. 

New performers such as Kim are just as excited going into the semifinals as returning performers such as Alvord. Both recognize the high caliber of every student involved in the show and use this as inspiration to self-motivate.

“I’m kind of nervous to compete against other people, but I’m also so excited to hear other people sing, because obviously there are so many talented people here at Dartmouth,” Kim said.