Emerson Idol: The search for the next EVVY superstar

Tim Strain, Beacon Staff, contributed reporting

American Idol has come to Emerson with the competition for the new EVVY Award for Outstanding Vocal Performer. The 10 semi-finalists will be whittled down to three next Thursday; the trio will go on to perform live on stage at the EVVYs on May 14.

The concept for this new addition to the EVVYs stemmed from the award for Best Original Song of past years.

“[The award for] Original Song was more of an indie singer/songwriter situation; it was more low key,” said Jared Wyso, EVVYs executive producer and senior producing for film and television major. “We wanted to publicize it and wanted it to be a huge part of the show. It’s all about the performance instead of the songwriting.”

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The competition started with a casting call on Nov. 7, 2010 where around 50 people auditioned. Each hopeful performed in front of the four producers of the show.

Junior theater studies major Claire Kaiser, one of the final ten, said singing her rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” was a unique experience.

“I usually do musical theater on stage,” she said in a phone interview with the Beacon. “I didn’t know what to expect with four strangers and a camera in front of me…they had me pretend I got stung by bees and then sing.”

Wyso said that the pressure is necessary.

“It’s designed that way because people that stand out in a pressure situation in front of four people will also stand out in front of thousands,” he said.

After a series of callbacks, the top ten were chosen by the producers. For the past two weeks, the public has had the chance to vote for their favorite on the EVVY website. The public vote, which includes people outside of Emerson, counts for 25% of the overall vote; the remainder is filled by three industry professionals. Each judge will rank the performers on a scale from one to 10, with each judge having a quarter of the vote.

The first is Eric Hutchinson, a singer-songwriter and Emerson alumnus who has released three albums and performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Second is Renee Grant-Williams, a vocal coach known for working with singers Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera. Don Grossinger is the last judge. He has worked as a sound mastering engineer and brings 25 years of experience and millions of records sold to the judges’ table.

All ten candidates plastered their Facebooks and Twitters with pleas to get out the vote.

“We had to shut down the polls for an hour [a week ago] because the system was at max capacity…so we had to expand the system and how many votes it could take,” said Pat Lambert, creative executive producer and senior communication studies major.

Once the top three are revealed, the finalists will work to perfect their acts and to perform live at the EVVYs. Before they ham it up on stage, however, a short video will be played to show the road that each performer took to get to the Cutler.

“We now have footage of them from the casting to this competition to once they are cast then finding out the dancers and working through the production and working with their vocal coach,” said Lambert.

The top three will perform on May 14, and at the end of the show an announcement will be made for everyone to text in their vote. Anyone watching, in the audience or at home, can vote. The grand prize-winner will be solely based on the public vote.

“The EVVY Awards is essentially Emerson’s homecoming; it is our year-end gala where students from all walks of life, all different majors, come together and celebrate the past year at Emerson College and all the work they have done,” said Wyso. “It’s all about supporting your friends and family supporting their children.”

Kaiser can relate. “Cousins I haven’t talked to in years are leaving me messages. My aunt, friends from high school, people from my hometown. The support has been awesome.”

Lambert, too, said he is excited about the program.

“It has always been a gigantic show, but this has been the year that it is at a new peak,” said Lambert. “The show has got lots of things that are different this year; but you will just have to come to find out.”