Campus SuperStar: Fabulous and Simon-less

For anyone who would try out for American Idol, if not for the days-long lines for auditions, or the prospect of being embarrassed by Simon Cowell on national television, your excuses are used up. This past Thursday, the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh hosted its own “Campus SuperStar” competition, modeled after the popular television show, where local talent competed for a chance to win $5000 as well as the title of Campus SuperStar. Hosted by Elliot Yamin, who came in third place on last year’s season of American Idol, the show’s performances, a mix of pop and musical theater tunes, rivaled those of the current Idol competition.

The Campus SuperStar competition followed the format of American Idol, which involves several stages of auditions followed by performances by the finalists — Campus SuperStar even included a blue-lit stage with metal scaffolding similar to Idol’s set in Hollywood. Out of the 107 students who auditioned in September, 24 semifinalists were called back for the second round of auditions on February 18 at the William Pitt Union. From those, 10 finalists were chosen to perform at Carnegie Music Hall, which hosted a packed show this past Thursday. Although the winner was ultimately chosen by the audience, four judges critiqued each performance. None of the comments were anywhere near what you might expect to hear from Simon Cowell. Still, the judges (local celebrities Etta Cox, Lynn Cullen, Ken Rice, and Richard Rauh) provided honest, useful feedback.

Of the 10 finalists, five were students in the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama: sophomore Bernie Balbot, first-year Nick Cosgrove, sophomore Jon-Michael Reese, first-year Tess Soltau, and sophomore Sam Trussell. Two other drama students, first-year Sophia Feldman and junior Roberta Burke, were selected for the final 10 but were unable to attend the competition. The other contestants included two undergraduates from the University of Pittsburgh, two from Point Park University, and one graduate student from Duquesne University.

The winner of the Campus SuperStar title was Carnegie Mellon first-year Nick Cosgrove. Singing second, Cosgrove performed an impressive rendition of Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be.” Judge Lynn Cullen played on the tune’s lyrics in her praise for Cosgrove, saying, “I’ll be your greatest fan!”

Second place went to Alyssa Thatcher, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, whose sultry, jazzy voice captivated the audience and the judges. “[While the other performers] knocked our socks off,” said judge and local news anchor Ken Rice, “you gently rolled our socks down.” The third-place slot went to the night’s final performer, Rob Kurth, who is currently working on a master’s in vocal performance at Duquesne University.

Other notable performances included School of Drama first-year Tess Soltau’s version of “Let’s Give ’Em Something To Talk About.” Soltau’s fabulous belt and bubbly personality were a hit, especially among the male judges. After her performance, judge (and agent) Richard Rauh asked Soltau if he could represent her talent in New York City, while Ken Rice confessed, “You had me at ‘Let’s.’ ” Staying true to Idol, Point Park’s Kirstie Cook sang “Before He Cheats,” which was originally recorded by country singer Carrie Underwood, who also won American Idol. Ultimately, all of the night’s performers were both entertaining and talented. Maybe it’s time for Pittsburgh to become one of the stops on American Idol’s audition tour.