By Aja Alexander
Winner of the National Association for Campus Activities 2017 Your Best Campus Tradition award, the R Factor returned for its ninth season semi-final round on Sept. 28 and its finale on Sept. 29 in the Bart Luedeke Center (BLC).
Since it started in January 2012, the R Factor has been a highly anticipated event within the first month of the school year, and this year was no exception, with students lined up outside the theater 30 minutes before showtime.
Out of the 10 students that auditioned on Sept. 14, seven made it to the semi-finals.
The two-week journey from the auditions to the final rounds were spent helping the contestants figure out what they were going to sing.
One of the R Factor judges and Assistant Director of Campus Life for Activities and Student Engagement Nick Barbati said, “We work with our students over the course of those two weeks to develop two solo performances, one to definitely perform at the semi-finals, and one should they advance to the final.”
The three judges responsible for coaching a team with two contestants were director and photographer Ryan Hutchins, former X Factor USA season 1 finalist Dani Knights and Barbati.
The seventh semi-finalist, senior sports marketing major Amari Johnson, was the wildcard, and she competed on Barbati’s team.
Barbati, the creator of the R Factor, said, “I think what you’re really going to see is the ones who really want it [will] show through. You can always tell that about this stage in the competition — the ones that have worked really hard. The audience seems to really connect with those individuals.”
Although there was a packed crowd for the semi-finals, the ones who weren’t able to get in could view the show in the Cavalla room via live stream.
The night began with a recap of the auditions, along with the judges’ critiques and backstories of the contestants on a screen.
After the video introduction, all the performers sang live, including junior behavioral neuroscience major Caleb Holt, who was on Hutchins’ team.
Wearing a yellow hoodie, jeans and sneakers, he sang “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley to instantaneous applause, especially from his family sitting near the front of the stage.
Johnson, the wild card, was unable to perform due to illness.
An hour into the competition, the audience was given a chance to vote for who they wanted to advance to the finals through a text message. However, before announcing who proceeded to the last round, duets and solos were performed by some of the contestants.
Anticipation and excitement seeped through the crowd, as all the performers joined the stage and stood by their team captain. At the end of the semi-finals, senior health sciences major Alexis Shearer, freshman musical theater major Shamiea Thompson and Holt were given the opportunity to advance.
The next night, the audience, once again, piled into the theater, eager to see who was going to be crowned the champion.
After a brief review of the auditions and semi-finals on a screen, the performances were underway.
The night was full of memorable moments, including when Thompson sang “Halo” by Beyoncé and Shearer sang “Skinny Love” by Birdy.
Captivating the crowd with her expansive vocal range, Thompson delivered such a breathtaking performance that it caused an audience member to shout, “Beyoncé who?”
Knight said to Thompson, “I am convinced there is not a note you can’t hit.”
Reflecting on Shearer’s performance, she said, “I’ll never forget the feeling of being up on that stage, sharing my story through song with everyone in the room and using my vulnerability to really connect with the audience.”
Although Shearer did not progress as one of the final two, she is grateful for the experience.
“I will forever be changed by the R Factor, as it has shown me that people accept me and my voice for exactly what they are,” Shearer said. “This competition is the exact push I needed to rekindle my love for music and hopefully pursue it in the future.”
Wrapping up the night before the winner was announced, Holt performed “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James and Thompson performed “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone — both were their audition pieces.
Right as Holt began his song, his younger sister called out, “Let’s go Caleb” to audience awes.
Holt, who also competed in the R Factor when he was a freshman, said, “Having my family there was such a great experience. Having the mixture of support from here at school and home definitely made me feel more comfortable on stage.”
In the midst of the show, a few former R factor hosts and performers made an apperance to be inducted in the R Factor Hall of Fame and receive plaques.
Rider alumna Lucia White, who hosted seasons four and five, said, “It means the world to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I owe so much to Rider University and was truly blessed to be a part of so many amazing offices and organizations.”
To see how the tradition of the R Factor is still one of the university’s most popular events to students and alumni, alike, is rewarding to Barbati.
“I value the experience so much,” said Barbati. “I love bonding with the students, and I’ve been lucky enough with some of the students who really connected well with the audience.”
Near the end of the evening, the hyped crowd quieted down once Holt and Thompson walked back onto the stage to await the annoucement of who won.
The prize for winning this year was $500, plus the opportunity to perform at other Rider events.
Cheers erupted throughout the theater when Holt was declared the victor, and his family shot up from their seats to join him onstage, as confetti began to rain down.
“My reaction to winning was honestly shock,” Holt said. “Both freshman year and this year, I was surrounded by nothing but talented people. Anybody could have taken home that record. So I’m just thankful that I was able to shine through.”
As for giving guidance to future performers thinking of participating in the R Factor Season 10, Holt said, “My advice I’d give is to just be yourself. Do what you love to do and share that piece of yourself with the crowd. Most of all, have fun.”
Additional reporting by Megan Lupo.
Published in the 10/03/18 issue.