Sujin Lee Rockin' the Singers Showcase Callback Auditions

Berklee’s most anticipated showcase is just two days away! So, to get ready, check out what happened at the Singers Showcase Callback Auditions!

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After the success of the first Callback Auditions Concert in the Fall, Berklee again opened up the final round of auditions for the Spring Singers Showcase to the public vote with a live concert at the Berklee Performance Center, which also streamed live on the web. To up the ante from the first Callback Auditions Concert, Berklee invited American Idol vocal coach and arranger Debra Byrd to join the panel of Berklee faculty in helping the audience cast their vote for the top 8 out of 15 vocalists to sing in the Showcase.

Contestants Silvina Moreno, Gabriel De Rose, and Melanie Donnelly and the panel of judges

Silvina Moreno was the first contestant to perform and had the difficult job of beginning the whole show with an a capella tune, as was the rule for every vocalist. She sang a fiery Spanish song that really showcased her technique, just as the a capella solo was designed. Then Silvina let her hair down, literally and figuratively, for her second song selection with the band, which highlighted her energy and performance skills as much as her vocal chops. Next, Gabriel De Rose switched gears to a more classic-rock vibe, with the mane to boot, as you can see in the picture above.

Clockwise from top left: Molly Blythe, Jonathan Dendy, and Sam Schultz

Following Gabriel was Molly Blythe, one of my favorite contestants of the evening. As even the judges acknowledged after her performance, Molly had a wonderful voice, stage presence, and arranging skills, ensuring that the band supported her in keeping the energy and interest level high. The only negative comment the panel could offer was that her dress, while quite classy, seemed to impinge on her full range of movement.

Jonathan Dendy was the fourth contestant, and I couldn’t help thinking it was alittle like comparing apples to oranges having Jonathan compete against a slew of pop and R&B singers when he was clearly a classical/musical theater vocalist, which requires a different kind of technique and performance approach than pop styles. Regardless, Jonathan gave a passionate performance, highlighting his considerable vocal technique.

I don’t think anything could have been prepared for the whirlwind that was the next performer, Sujin Lee. Pictured in the opening image of this article, you can get a small sense of her performance aesthetic – all attitude. She held nothing back and had the whole audience on her side from the minute she took the stage, including myself. And while she sang some great lines, her hair-flipping, hell-raising rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll was the highlight of her performance and far more memorable than her actual vocal chops. But oddly enough, Sujin’s larger-than-life on-stage persona created one of the most genuine performances that night because there’s really no faking that kind of dedication and willingness to leave it all out on stage.

American Idol vocal coach and arranger Debra Byrd

Next was Sam Schultz, who gave two beautiful performances and demonstrated why she was chosen to be at the Callbacks, but only after getting off to a terribly rough start before she even sang a note; when she waked on stage, she confided that she was nervous, so much so that she couldn’t even remember the title of her a capella song. Debra Byrd, not missing a teachable moment for the rest of the student body, explained what judges want to see in an audition or a performance and that Samantha should have kept her nerves unspoken and behaved as though she was fully confident in her abilities. Otherwise, Byrd explained, it’s impossible to inspire confidence in future employers hearing you perform.

Clockwise from top left: Luis Figueroa-Roig, Naomi Gillies, Mia Verdoorn, Dorian Allen, Emily Miller

Next was another favorite of mine, Mia Verdoorn from South Africa, who wins my vote for best accent of the evening! She had a beautiful, warm voice and gave two beautiful performances replete with beautiful lines and fantastic technique. Unfortunately for her, the voting swayed more toward entertaining performances than beautiful vocals, but that’s what the Callback Audition Concert is for – to hear incredibly talented Berklee vocalists who I wouldn’t otherwise see at the Singers Showcase.

Following Mia was one of the more charasmatic male performers of the night, Dorian Allen. Dorian exhibited a confident stage presence, a smooth voice, and a personality that drew the entire audience into his songs. After he finished,  though, Debra gave Dorian something of a mini vocal coaching session and had Dorian sing a few lines again, implementing some of the feedback she had for him. Dorian’s after-performance critique, while possibly a little embarrassing, was a highlight of the evening for me because it allowed the audience a window into Debra Byrd’s world and the opportunity to see her pour into the contestants at the Singers Showcase like she would on American Idol.

The next three female singers all shared full, rich voices in common with a nice helping of soul. First was Naomi Gillies, a petite girl with a big voice, who got the crowd going as early as her a capella selection. The next female vocalist, Emily Miller, had a bright personality that could project to the back of the room with her powerful voice. And Hannah Juliano, a member of the Berklee a capella group Pitch Slapped, didn’t disappoint, giving an incredible vocal performance.

Clockwise from Top: Torrence Nelson, Mario José, Hannah Juliano

The remaining male performers that evening all had a helping of R&B and soul in their performances too, which I’m sure helped them all secure 3 of the final 8 spots. First, Luis Figueroa-Roig started the trend of performing a slower ballad for the band number, the exact opposite approach of the contestants earlier in the program who picked the most upbeat, rocking tunes possible. Mario José also performed a ballad, with a simple piano accompaniment, which was very well received from his large fan base, Pitch Slapped fans (of which, like Hannah, he is also a member), and unaffiliated members of the audience alike.

Torrence Nelson wins the award for getting the most animated response out of the audience, who were already jumping to their feet and shouting in response to energy Torrence was bringing well before the song was over. I personally believe, given the raucous response from the audience and incredibly positive feedback from the judges, that Torrence should have ended the program because the final performer, Melanie Donnelly, had an incredibly hard act to follow and was helpless to capture the audience’s attention to the same degree as Torrence. This pressure was evident in Melanie’s performance when she performed a knee-dive before she had even entered the final chorus of her band number, a decision Debra Byrd later chided her for, rightly pointing out that it seemed arbitrary and left Melanie without anywhere to take the song.

I’m so incredibly glad that Berklee has started this wonderful tradition of making the final auditions open to the public. I would suggest, though, that Berklee streamline the vote counting process somehow before the next concert, as dozens of attendees left the BPC of impatience while the incredible house band tried to fill the time before the results could be revealed. Livingston Taylor did his part, as well, to help entertain the audience in the interim, sharing the story of the only time he’s ever been boo’ed from the stage.

Livingston Taylor sharing his story of being boo'ed from a performance

But ultimately, the wait was worth it to see the final 8 contestants on stage, especially after better understanding the process it took to choose those 8 individuals. I’ve yet to attend a Singer’s Showcase before, so I’m incredibly excited for Thursday night to see if it lives up to the hype. Check back at Berklee-Blogs for the full recap!

Left to right: Torrence Nelson, Naomi Gillies, Emily Miller, Su Jin Lee, Luis Figueroa-Roig, Silvina Moreno, Mario José, Dorian Allen

– Elisa

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