By Danielle Gittleman
The scene in the Yvonne Theater seemed rather dark and ominous as the lights dimmed and “O Fortuna” played loudly from the speakers — but it was anything but that. As the four judges waved to a packed crowd, they took their seats to begin the search for this year’s R Factor winner.
Rider’s version of The X Factor began its third season on Feb. 1 with the audition rounds. Dozens of students auditioned in front of returning judges Nick Barbati, assistant director of Campus Life, Karin Torchia, associate director of Athletics, and Donte Carty, the athletic marketing assistant, along with new judge Paul Vizzio, Campus Life graduate assistant. Hosts Andrew LoBrace, coordinator of student programs, and Dani Knights of Lakoda Rayne entertained the crowd. Knights appeared as a finalist on The X Factor and performed two songs for the audience.
Over the past few weeks, all of the judges have been working closely with their finalists to narrow it down to two contestants per judge.
According to Barbati, who is coaching the groups this year, he narrowed his picks down to duo sophomore musical theater majors Rory Connolly and Peter Petrino, along with freshmen musical theater majors Aaron Miller and Marissa Galletti.
This year, Carty has the “overs,” or the returning contestants from the past two years, which includes junior finance major Cole Clark and sophomore theater major Leah Killmer.
Also, there are now two groups of solo artists that are led by Torchia and Vizzio. Torchia selected freshman undeclared major Leia Rochester and freshman theater performance and public relations major Kylie McDonald, while Vizzio chose to coach freshman public relations major Malissa Hanson and freshman musical theater major Anna Smith.
Barbati and Carty both admitted that it was really hard to pick two contestants per judge. Carty found it especially difficult since he has the returning contestants from the previous two competitions.
“For me, for the returners, I think it’s the people that really want it the most,” Carty said. “But the two people I picked I think really want it and they’re ready to fight for it.”
Since the first auditions, the judges have been working diligently in hopes of making it to the finale. According to Barbati, he’s spent the last few weeks getting to know his artists and picking the perfect song for them to perform, as well as focusing on their stage presence.
“We actually bond in these three-week time periods,” Barbati said. “We get so invested in our students. The judges get so competitive with each other, and we jockey for our acts. We really want them to win because we’ve worked with them, and we saw how hard they worked. We want them to feel that moment where they win.”
Carty has also been working closely with his acts. He, too, has been spending a lot of time with them to make sure that they can potentially win this competition. Both Barbati and Carty hope their guidance will help their acts get as far as they can.
The contestants hope to use the judges’ direction to fuel their own motivation to win. McDonald finds working with Torchia to be a great experience.
“Karin has been so great to work with,” McDonald said. “She comes up with great ideas for me and also takes my input into consideration, which I really appreciate. I think we both have the same mind-set for what I will do in the finals, and I know it will be great.”
As for duo Connolly and Petrino, they’ve been working non-stop and want to win more than anything.
“For me, personally, it’s an opportunity to perform outside of the realm of music theater, and that doesn’t happen much,” Connolly said. “It’s an opportunity to show people that we aren’t just one-sided performers. We don’t only listen to show tunes. We do it for ourselves first. It’s about having fun and enjoying the experience. The prize money just comes as a bonus. For us, it’s working collectively toward a common goal. And we want it badly.”
The winner of R Factor will be crowned on Feb. 22 in the Yvonne Theater where all four judges will return to support their acts, with LoBrace and Knights as hosts. The winner of R Factor will receive $500 and the chance to perform at a campus event in the future.
Printed in the 2/19/14 edition.