Berklee Riffs: Singers Showcase Callback Auditions

Brenda Pike
October 14, 2010
Erika Cole prepares to go onstage.
Later performers await their turn in the green room.
The panel of judges: Voice Department professors Livingston Taylor and Donna McElroy, and Ensemble Department professor Ken Zambello
Photo by Brenda Pike
Photo by Brenda Pike
Photo by Brenda Pike

This September, Berklee opened up auditions for one of its biggest student concerts to audience participation. Over 100 vocalists try out for Singers Showcase each year, and this year 15 made it through to the second round. At their callback auditions, audience members—both in person and over UStream—were invited to vote for their choices, American-Idol style, and the results were weighed alongside the choices of the three faculty judges.

The evening was certainly interactive—and remarkably supportive for what many would think of as a highly competitive school. The audience of mostly Berklee students hooted, cheered, and clapped for creative song interpretations or impressive notes, and surged to its feet to show its support of especially charismatic performers.

The theme of this year's Singers Showcase will be the Beatles’s Abbey Road, so each singer began their performance with an a cappella version of a song from the album. The audience heard gospel, soul, folk, and even scat versions of "Come Together," "Golden Slumbers," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Something." Then each student performed a song of their choice, ranging from Carrie Underwood's "Last Name" to Luis Fonsi's "Imaginame Sin Ti," backed by a band made up of Berklee faculty George Russell Jr. (piano) and Winston Maccow (bass) as well as students Massimo Buonanno (drum set) and Jonathan Ong (guitar).

The judges, Voice Department faculty Livingston Taylor and Donna McElroy and Ensemble Department professor Ken Zambello, commented on everything from audience interaction to rapport with the band, costuming, song choice, song interpretation, and—of course—vocal technique.

At the end of the night, while waiting for the votes to be tallied, emcee Rob Rose, associate vice president for special programs, made a surprise announcement. While only eight of the 15 auditioners could get coveted solo spots in Singers Showcase, the other seven would do a group number in the show.

In the end, the chosen soloists were (drumroll, please . . . ) Mia Verdoorn, Juan Cardona, Chad George, Joelle James, Mario Jose, Shayna Goldstein, Erika Cole, and Naomi Gillies. Check them out December 2 at the Berklee Performance Center.

Berklee Riffs offer snapshots of day-to-day life at the college.