By Caroline Forde
Rider’s fourth season of the R Factor took over the Yvonne Theater on Sept. 12, and 25 musical hopefuls auditioned in front of a packed crowd to earn a seat in each judges’ final two.
This year, the judges include Assistant Director of Campus Life Nick Barbati, Athletic Marketing Assistant Donte Carty, and X Factor finalists Dani Knights and Jeff Gutt.
This year’s competition is proving to be different from previous seasons, as new rules have been implemented. The “Two Chair Challenge,” a change in the competition where only two students per group make it through to the finale, made the auditions even more competitive and tense. Contestants were divided into four groups: Girls One, Girls Two, Boys One, and Boys Two. Each group’s contestants were pitted against each other, trying to earn a seat in the final two for that category. If chosen, contestants were asked to sit in the judges’ individual “cabanas” for the night. Acts were warned not to get too comfortable, however. They could be switched out by any other act in their category that the judge deemed better without any notice. This switch was a welcome one, added to ensure that the audience knew without a doubt who the final eight were.
“This is going to be the best year ever,” Barbati said. “The new rules are insanely cool.”
The auditions started off with Carty’s acts auditioning for a spot in his cabana. Leah Killmer (junior theater), Sarah Walsh (undeclared freshman), Christine Lam (freshman history), freshmen elementary education majors Ilian Irving, Kaitlynn White, Victoria Panagos and Bailey Kallens auditioned for the panel.
Killmer, last year’s runner-up, was eliminated from the competition when Lam sang a beautiful acoustic rendition of Ariana Grande’s “Break Free,” earning her a spot in Carty’s top two. Panagos, who sang “Almost is Never Enough,” also by Grande, soon joined in that top two, and sat comfortably in Carty’s cabana for the rest of the night.
After the show, Carty seemed confident in his choices.
“I like my chances,” he said. “I have two very young contestants, but they have a lot of energy and great voices. I’m looking forward to developing them for the next three weeks.”
After a performance of Leonard Cohen’s classic tune “Hallelujah” by judge Jeff Gutt, which had the audience swooning, auditions continued for Dani Knights’ top two. Duo Matthew Esposito (freshman global supply chain management), and Daiquan Cutler (undeclared freshman), Justin Giachetti (sophomore theater), Anthony Washington (junior popular music culture), and freshmen duo Gianluca D’Elia (radio and TV) and Marrissa Mancuso (psychology) sang for the panel.
While D’Elia and Mancuso’s stellar vocals rocked the stage, ultimately Esposito and crowd-favorite Washington earned seats in Knights’ top two. Knights, who hosted the competition last year, expressed her excitement for the finals.
“I have Tony and Matt on my team,” she said. “We’re definitely going to kill it. With me and the two of them, we will win this competition.”
Next, the second round of girls took the stage. Haley Vassiljev (freshman radio and TV), Davia Echols (freshman secondary education), Lexie Fraction (freshman behavioral neuroscience), Anna K. Smith (sophomore musical theater), Milika Griffiths (junior musical theater), Nicole Smith (junior popular music culture), and Carrie Lettiere (senior elementary education) all took the stage, trying to impress Gutt.
Again, a finalist from last year was eliminated, and, while Nicole Smith’s performance of “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit had the audience dancing in their seats, she was ultimately cut as well, making Gutt’s final two Echols and Griffiths. Griffiths’ performance had the audience on their feet.
“I like competition, and I cannot wait to see what happens at the finals,” Gutt said.
Lastly, Barbati’s contestants took the stage. Barbati had a tough choice to make between R Factor veteran Peter Petrino (senior musical theater ) and newcomers Alexander Kettles (senior psychology), Brenton Tuccillo (sophomore arts administration), and Llundon Lawson (junior arts administration).
Ultimately, Lawson and Petrino made the cut as Barbati’s top two. Lawson was a great end to the night, playing piano to John Mayer’s “Dreaming With a Broken Heart.”
“My chances are I’m going to win,” Barbati said after the auditions. “Is there ever any doubt? My team is fantastic and they had the performances of the night.”
The R Factor finale will be held on Oct. 4 in the BLC Theater.
printed in the 10/1/14 edition