Students compete for title of R Factor champion

By Asia McGill

Finalists showcased their vocal talents on Sept. 23 for their performance in the Yvonne Theater as they competed in the finale of 13th annual R Factor singing competition.

The line to enter was spilling out the door of the Fine Arts Building and stretched to the end of the Science & Technology Center. There was no question that the event was highly anticipated. 

As the doors closed promptly at 7:30 p.m a gust of excitement could be felt in the Yvonne Theater.

The show kicked off with an introductory video from each finalist and their coach, which was broadcasted through television screens on both sides of the theater.

R Factor judges Heather Thompson, Rider’s Associate Dean of Campus Life Nick Barbati, Dani Knights, Ezra Hill and special guest judge Brad Fischetti, of the band LFO, took their seats. With bated breath the first contestant entered from stage right. 

The first contestant was Ida DeMarco, a junior arts and entertainment industries management major, who wowed the audience with her performance of  “Talking to the Moon” by Bruno Mars. 

DeMarco’s melodic voice caught the attention of all of the judges. “It was so captivating,” Knights said. 

Up next as the second performer was KC O’Brien, a junior supply chain management major, singing country hit “H.O.L.Y.” by Florida Georgia Line. 

O’Brien’s performance warmed the heart of his coach, Barbati. Barbati complimented his growth as a singer and told him “I believe in you.” 

Third in line to perform was Michaela Smith, a sophomore communications major who held impressively long notes singing “Jar of Hearts” by Christina Perri.

Smith’s expressive stage presence elicited great emotion to her performance. “You were feeling the words,” Fischetti said from the judges’ panel.

Senior music education major Azhaneet Blackwell entered as the fourth performer singing “I’m Here” from the Broadway musical, The Color Purple. The emotional piece moved the audience. 

“I could’ve seen you on Broadway,” Fischetti said.

Christine Ruggieri, senior English major, returned as a previous contestant to the R Factor stage as the fifth performer. She took the challenge of singing despite being “a bit under the weather,” with the song “Anyone” by Demi Lovato. Her performance impressed the audience, earning her a standing ovation.

Senior English major, Christine Ruggieri, belted out her version of “Anyone” by Demi Lovato. Photo courtesy of Andrew Xon.

“You said you were sick?” Knights said. “I can only dream of sounding like that.” 

Sophomore musical theater major Breanna Lemerise entered solo as the sixth contestant in the absence of her singing partner who was sick, Nicholas Grzywacz, a freshman acting major. Lemerise sang “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

Although the two auditioned as a duo, Lemerise sang the original duet song as a solo, with Thompson complimenting her, “You totally made it yours.” 

The seventh contestant of the night was sophomore film major Will Dusinberre, who had a large fanbase cheering for him before he performed “Unchained Melody” by Elvis Presley.

Barbati said,“There was a moment I had to remind myself I wasn’t listening to a record.” 

The final contestant of the night was Jennie Mae Sprouse, a sophomore music production major singing the viral Tik Tok song, “Heather” by Conan Gray. 

“I think you have such a beautiful voice,” Hill said.

The pressure was on as audience members voted for who they thought should be the top finalists. 

The vote for the third finalist came to a tie between O’Brien, Lemerise and Blackwell. The third finalist was ultimately Lemerise, who was competing against Ruggieri and Dusinberre in the finals. 

Before the final round, several people who have made an impact on R Factor were inducted into the R Factor Hall of Fame.

 Amongst the inductees was Barbati, who started the contest 13 seasons ago. Barbati never allowed himself to be inducted, purely because he believed the show was never about him. Barbati’s eyes filled with tears as he spoke of his love for R Factor and all that were involved. 

“The production team, the judges, past inductees and others who really help with the show, all pool together every year and we come up with the candidates we’d internally vote on. I always just wanted to celebrate other people,” said Barbati in a follow-up interview. 

Lemerise engaged the crowd with a sing-along of a childhood favorite “This is Me,” from the Disney Channel original movie “Camp Rock.”

Next, Ruggieri got the crowd on their feet again with her strong voice in the song “Never Enough” by Loren Allred.

Finally, Dusinberre amazed the crowd with his smooth and gentle voice by singing “Strange” by Celeste. 

While the votes were being counted, the audience was entertained by previous R Factor winner, Mo Mamoud, as he sang “Beautiful Crazy” by Luke Combs.

When all of the votes were in and finalized, it was announced that the winner of the 13th annual R Factor was Dusinberre.

“Will is just spectacular. He is a ready made mega star that happens to be a Rider student. He recalls the voice of Elvis Presley, the stage presence of Madonna and the looks of James Dean. I think he’s just the total package and I think he is a real true star,” said Barbati. 

“Thank you guys so much,” said Dusinberre from the stage. “You guys are awesome.” 

 “I think it [R Factor] is a really cool experience for people who may not get to perform on campus,” Dusinberre said in an interview with The Rider News. “This is an outlet to sing, perform and be on stage because I know a lot of people who did it who aren’t music majors. I’m not a music major, so it gave me a nice outlet to be able to perform.” 

Additional reporting done by Tristan Leach 

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