By Adrianna Jaccoma and Zachary Klein
Auditions for the annual singing competition “The R Factor,” which is now an almost decade-long tradition at Rider, took place Sept. 17th in the Yvonne Theater. Students packed the auditorium as 21 acts competed for just four confirmed seats in the final on Sept. 24.
The judges for the night were former “X Factor” finalist Trace Kennedey, creative director for Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé, Heather Thompson, a five-time winning R Factor mentor and off-Broadway performer, associate dean of campus life Nick Barbati and former “X Factor” finalist Dani Knights.
“I’m excited to see all the talent coming in. I’ve heard a lot of great things from Nick. He’s blasting you guys, so I hope everyone lives up to it, and let’s have a great time tonight,” said Kennedey before the show.
“It’s gonna take passion, some real perseverance and a whole lot of talent [to win the R Factor],” Thompson added.
If the judges enjoyed a student’s performance they were asked to sit in one of four seats on the stage. As the performances continued, the judges had to decide who to keep in the four seats and swap contestants until they had their final four.
First to perform was sophomore musical theater major Maclain Rhine.
“This will be my first time singing in front of this many people even as a musical theater major. I’m auditioning tonight because I thought it would be fun, I love the song, and I also really like attention,” Rhine said jokingly in a pre-show interview. Rhine sang “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes and played the ukulele — the perfect combination to earn him the first seat.
Within the first 20 minutes and four acts, all four seats were filled. Joining Rhine during the early stages of the auditions were sophomore popular music studies major Asha Burtin, senior journalism major Dylan Manfre and junior film and television major Karl Stever.
With all seats filled, it was time for the judges to begin swapping out acts based on performance.
Later in the evening sophomore global supply chain major Kevin O’Brien performed.
“I’ve been singing since I was about seven years old and I just really like to do it, [it’s also] something I do in my free time. So I just decided to come out and see what happens and have some fun,” O’Brien said. He sang “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Dari, which the crowd supported by clapping along to the upbeat tempo.
Halfway through, the hosts interviewed audience members about their experiences. Freshman music production major Sebastian Leak was a fan favorite throughout the evening, even after losing his seat.
Another fan favorite was junior theater major Josh Payne, who sang “For Your Love” by SMLE.
“It felt so good hearing everyone cheer and say ‘give him a seat!’ and I was like woo good enough,” said Payne energetically in a post-show interview. Payne added he is looking forward to getting to showcase his writing in theater and hopes to see it being performed one day.
As the night concluded, the top four contestants were revealed to be junior political science major Sania Rashid, junior secondary education major Christine Ruggieri, junior musical theater major Shamiea Thompson and freshman film and television major William Dusinberre. The top four were all awarded automatic seats in the final round. Judges Thompson, Barbati and Kennedy also each choose one performer to join their team as a wild card. In order, they chose freshman biology major Atallah Gibbons, Leak and O’Brien, the latter two based on enthusiastic audience support.
“Sebastian made such a deep connection with the audience,” Barbati said about his wild card pick. “He was a wonderful performer and I think he’s going to grow in the next week and put on an incredible show for us on Friday.”
All the judges seemed to agree that there is no clear frontrunner for the finale, which will take place on Sept. 24th in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater. Thompson denied claims of being a favorite, saying “I try to be really humble when I’m performing. I just want to have a good time.”
The finals are sure to bring several twists and turns, but in the end, only one student can become the Season 12 champion of “The R Factor.”
Dylan Manfre is a sports editor for The Rider News. Manfre did not assist in the writing or editing of this story.