By J’na Jefferson
Malissa Hanson, freshman public relations major, demonstrated that a freshman can rule the school. She was crowned the winner of the third edition of the R Factor.
With the direction of newest judge and vocal coach, Campus Life graduate assistant Paul Vizzio, Hanson slayed the crowd with her vocal abilities and stage presence to match. She was awarded a $500 prize and the chance to perform at a future campus event.
“The experience was unbelievable,” Hanson said. “To know all my hard work paid off was incredible. I had great competition and it was a privilege to know I was chosen out of such great talent. Honestly, I had been preparing for this since last year’s R Factor and I knew I had to share my gift. My goal was for the audience to understand who I was as an artist to receive the message behind every song.”
During the first round of competition, Hanson earned high praise from the judges and a standing ovation from the crowd for her version of “Domino,” by Jessie J. Her second choice, Angie Miller’s “You Set Me Free,” also won praise.
Freshman musical theater major Anna Smith and sophomore theater major Leah Killmer also made it to the finals, and did not disappoint. Smith, who was also from Team Vizzio, was a crowd pleaser with her rendition of “Here For The Party” by Gretchen Wilson in round one, and “I Found A Boy” by Adele in round two. Killmer, who was one of Athletic Marketing Assistant Donte Carty’s returning contestants, sang an acoustic version of Jessie J’s “Price Tag,” and Adele’s “Someone Like You.”
Vizzio seemed to add something new for these performers. According to Nick Barbati, assistant director of Campus Life and the R Factor vocal coach, Vizzio was added to the team to “bring a younger energy and a young perspective.” His guidance helped Hanson make it to the top.
“He has helped me recognize that it’s not just about your talent, but that you really have to ‘wow’ the crowd,” Hanson said. “That means my energy, my attire, and voice have to be unique enough to where I totally stand out. The crowd should always wonder, ‘Who is that girl?’”
Hanson’s win was decided by audience votes via text messaging. The competition was social-media centered, with the crowd being able to tweet the event using the handle @RiderRFactor, as well as to interact with the judges and the social media correspondent, Eric Cottrell.
Barbati noted that many of the finalists this year have a background in musical theater, which differed from previous seasons. The first season had a very acoustic influence, while the second season highlighted many R&B singers at Rider.
“It’s almost like each year has brought a unique theme,” he said. “These students came out in full force this year, and it’s really exciting to see all these students in a similar lane compete against each other.”
Barbati’s team was a true testament to this year’s theme. Freshman musical theater major Aaron Miller showed what Barbati called “the mark of a true professional” by changing his original duet with partner Marisa Galletti, who was out sick, by going with “Just Haven’t Met You Yet” by Michael Bublé. The duo of Rory Connelly and Peter Petrino, both junior musical theater majors, proved that they have versatility far beyond center stage with their performance of “Fix You” by Coldplay.
The representatives on Associate Director of Athletics Karin Torchia’s team were also crowd-pleasers. Freshman theater performance and public relations major Kylie McDonald, who sang “Say Something” for her audition, opted for the more upbeat tune, “Rumour Has It” by Adele, which was praised by the judges for being “fun” and “energetic.” Freshman undeclared major Leia Rochester, who went with a risky a capella version of Beyoncé’s “Halo,” went for another R&B song — Elle Varner’s “Only Wanna Give It To You.”
Team Carty’s Cole Clark, a junior finance major who has been an instrumentalist for past R Factor contestants, was able to bring his country vocal chops to the forefront with his version of “Your Man” by Josh Turner.
The audience was also treated to performances by host and member of Lakoda Rayne, Dani Knights, as well as Season 2 R Factor winners, senior popular music culture majors Toni-Walker Stanley and Jalyssa James.
With the inspiration behind the competition, Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, getting the “X” from television, there is no telling what will happen with the future of Rider’s version. Barbati said that they have plans to revamp the competition for next season.
“We can’t stay too complacent with this program,” he said. “We want the students to continue to be energized.”
The most rewarding aspect of the R Factor, Barbati says, is not only the fun competition, but the benefits it offers the students who compete.
“We’re using our resources to build up our students’ confidence and to share their talents with the other students,” he said. “We could pay tens of thousands of dollars, or we can invest in our own resources and bring our students to the main stage.”
Printed in the 2/26/14 edition