Dartmouth Idol finals to celebrate diversity and collaboration

by Sathvika Korandla | 3/6/20 2:00am

The 13th Dartmouth Idol Finals take place tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium. Featuring six finalists who were selected out of 29 semi-finalists, the show will include solo performances by each finalist as well as group performances. 

This year, the show will be hosted by Jake Johnson ’21, Jesse VanNewkirk ’23 and Deby Xiadani ’15. Judges Eni Oyeleye ’20 and Grace Carney ’17 will give feedback to the performers after each piece. At the end of the show, the audience will vote for the winners. The six finalists are Daniel Abate ’23, Summer Cody ’20, Matt Dempsey ’23, Soomin Kim ’20, Molly McQuoid ’23 and Caitlin Wanic ’21.

Dartmouth Idol gives students on campus the opportunity to perform and exhibit their individual vocal talents. It also allows students interested in other aspects of show production to be involved — whether it’s through playing in the live orchestra, dancing, performing as a backup vocalist or filming videos that will be played during the show. 

Walt Cunningham, director and founder of Dartmouth Idol, noted that every year, student involvement in the show has grown, and that this year, the show will feature a 17-piece orchestra and background singers to support the finalists.

This year, Dartmouth Idol will be honoring the children’s television show “Sesame Street,” which celebrated its 50th birthday last year. The theme will be incorporated through musical performances and videos.

“‘Sesame Street’ was a program so ahead of its time, because it was all about providing access to early education to socioeconomically disadvantaged people,” Cunningham said. “Additionally, ‘Sesame Street’ was all about diversity of programming and diversity of the casting. It was one of the few shows that had people of different ethnicities and different ages, and celebrated diversity. It has a very similar focus to Dartmouth Idol.”

To incorporate this theme, Dartmouth Idol reached out to people in the local community. The finalists filmed a video with students from Bernice A. Ray elementary school in Hanover, in which they all sing songs from Sesame Street. The video will be played during the show.

“This video was really cool and fun to do because I like working with kids,” McQuoid said. McQuoid noted that working on these different aspects of the show and production have brought the finalists closer together.

Each musician comes from a different background: some have been performing their whole lives and others have never performed this type of show before. Three of the six finalists this year are first-years.

“I hope the biggest thing [the contestants] can take away from it is self-awareness, confidence, an understanding of the value of the collaborative process and most importantly, the value of diversity,” Cunningham said. “If they walk away from the show having an appreciation for each other’s uniqueness and appreciation for what it’s like to put on a production, I think I’ve done my job.”

Cody, president of the Dartmouth Sings, noted that the atmosphere of the show highlights this feeling, which is that Idol is more about coming together through a shared passion for music, rather than competing. 

“Dartmouth Idol spreads the message of coming together and finding love and family in everyone,” Cody said. “That’s the message that pervades through this year’s show.”

Abate, a member of the Dartmouth Aires, noted how preparing with Kim for a group performance has been enjoyable. 

“I’ve been working quite closely with Soomin, and she is such a joy,” Abate said. “We’re both exploring new realms, so it’s been kind of fun to see how our dynamic would work because we will be in some performances together. We’ve been working on how we can bring out the best in each other.”

Similarly, Cody shared how working with McQuoid, who is also a member of The Sings, has helped them both to grow as musicians.

“I’m looking forward to singing with Molly, since we’ll be singing a song together,” Cody said. “She’s in my a cappella group, and she’s a sweetheart and an amazing singer. There’s going to be a lot of fun chemistry on the stage so I’m excited to make that happen.”

Dempsey, another finalist and member of the Dartmouth Cords, noted how Dartmouth Idol not only gives students the opportunity to perform with other talented musicians on campus, but also showcase their individual talents through solos.

“I’m a bass voice and we don’t get solos all that often. Just being able to perform … it’s a great experience. Even if you don’t solo that often, or don’t perform in front of an audience that often, that’s what Idol is there for,” Dempsey said. “It gives you the opportunity to be yourself and showcase your own voice and talent. I’ve loved a cappella and glee club, which are very group oriented, but it’s fun to be able to sing for yourself once in a while.”

Cunningham works with the performers one-on-one and coaches them through their pieces. He helped them choose songs that fit the theme while also highlighting their vocal strengths.

“A show of this size, with this many moving pieces, could not happen without someone like Walt,” Cody said. “I think because there’s so much to do, you run the risk of the person in charge being stressed out and having that energy bleed onto people that are in the show, but he’s always so positive and so happy. It allows the rest of us, the Idols and the rest of the people in the show, to feel despite all of the work that this is going to be a fun show.”