By Samantha Brandbergh and Rhea Fryer
The R Factor auditions, one of the most heavily anticipated nights at Rider, did not fail to impress with the astounding talent that crossed the stage on Sept. 15.
The judges’ panel, which consisted of returning coaches Nicholas Barbati and Dani Knights and new judge Dez Duron, from Season 3 of The Voice, were tasked with deciding the winner.
“I’m looking for high-energy performances, a lot of effort and just a great voice,” Duron said of his expectations for the auditions.
A group of 27 hopefuls sang in front of the judges, who could only pick two people for their teams. Members of their team could also be swapped out for others if they felt one was more main-stage-ready than another.
Senior elementary education major Victoria Panagos was the first contestant to hit the stage, performing “My Everything” by Ariana Grande. Although the judges could tell she was nervous at first, the performance earned her a spot on Duron’s team.
The seat was ultimately taken by junior biology major Alexis Shearer, who performed a “casual” rendition of “Dancing On My Own,” originally by Robyn.
“There’s something really, really cool about your voice, and I loved watching you,” Knights said.
A soulful and confident performance from senior public relations major Janay Barkley, who sang a mashup of “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child and “Love Galore” by SZA, generated a standing ovation from members in the audience and a chair on Duron’s team.
“That was one of the best auditions I have ever seen on this stage,” Barbati said. “Once it started, you were so instantly comfortable with the music. That’s the difference between someone who’s good, and someone who’s an artist.”
Freshman musical theater major Genesis Toledo was the first performer to take a spot on Barbati’s team with a powerful performance of “Who’s Loving You” by The Jackson 5.
Within the first few seconds of the performance, audience members erupted into applause over Toledo’s strong vocal runs. As the music faded, the audience and Barbati leapt to their feet.
R Factor showed off pure individuality with one artist, freshman popular music studies major Gabrielle Esguerra, who performed an original piece titled “Moments,” accompanied by her acoustic guitar.
Although Esguerra was not granted a seat for the final, Barbati decided to give her a rare opportunity to express her talents, even if that meant not advancing in the competition.
“I’m going to ask you to do me a favor,” Barbati began. “I want to give you a task to write the [R Factor] winner’s song this year.” The crowd erupted into applause as Esguerra agreed to the deal.
Senior elementary education major Taylor Donovan landed the second spot on Barbati’s team after her performance of “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna. The stripped-down piano version put Donovan’s vocals on full display, with the audience filling in every silent moment with cheers.
“I’ve loved you since the first time I saw you, honestly,” Knights said. “This could be your year.”
The last group of students left to perform would fight for a spot on Knights’ team, including sophomore liberal studies major Malik Wright who delivered a soaring performance of “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran.
Although Knights said she was nervous upon hearing Wright’s song choice, she said he “worked it really well, and the build was great.” She granted him the second spot on her team, making him the only male finalist.
Singing in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking, but luckily for performers, such as freshman popular music studies major Madison Schramm, the support can help ease the stress.
“When I walked out on stage and heard my little group of friends cheering for me, it made me feel so confident and ready to perform,” she said.
Schramm sang “This Town” by Niall Horan, resulting in Duron describing her song choice as “perfect.”
“Your voice is so soothing. Your pitch is great,” he said.
Although Schramm did not end up winning a seat that night, Knights told her that, with enough confidence and some more practice, she has strong potential for next year’s auditions.
Knights’ team was filled once sophomore musical theater Anna Sanzone sang a charismatic version of “Ayo” by Lady GaGa.
The judges were impressed with Sanzone’s vocal range and ability to hit the difficult high notes the song possesses.
“I think your voice is incredible,” Knights said. “What you did takes a lot of vocal control, and you nailed it. I’m definitely going to give you a seat.”
The R Factor auditions were jam-packed with vibrant artists from all levels of skill coming together for their love for music. The finalists will be able to showcase their growth and talent once again on Sept. 29 at the final, which is sure to impress the audience.
Printed in the 9/20/17 edition.