Beyonce to Bluegrass: USF’s Got Talent

Freshman Kaciah Hopper belts out a Beyonce ballad at the USF’s Got Talent Competition on Wednesday, March 31. Her performance won her the $300 grand prize. Photo by Valeri Aragon/Foghorn

Hula dancing, mandolin-playing, stand-up comedy and harmonica beatboxing were among the talents showcased at USF’s Got Talent this past Wednesday. The event, hosted by the Campus Activities Board, took place in the Presentation Theatre from 8 to 10 p.m., running a little long – not that the audience minded.

USF’s Got Talent was emceed by perky sophomore Evelyn Obamos, with her brand of cheesy-though-cute humor. It was judged by a panel of four, including students Jenny Dinh and Halimah Najieb-Locke, CAB adviser Darren Pierre, and music professor Francesca Rivera.

The show opened with a piano cover of Lady Gaga’s “Speechless” by Kayleigh Mack, at first miscast as an original piece by the student. Trivial slips like these–missed lyrics, misplaced microphones, were the only minor hitches in an otherwise smooth and successful performance.

Even the unexpected glitches were taken well; junior Scarlett Caldwell found herself performing a capella after, as she put it, “the pianist bailed on me,” but was supported by a loud and appreciative audience that cheered and whooped, calling out performers’ names and participating in the intermission activity where they snapped fingers, slapped thighs and stomped feet to create a thunderstorm in the Presentation Theatre.

The “thunderstorm” was dwarfed, however, by the applause for the three winning acts: Kaciah Hopper in first place with a Beyonce cover and a grand prize of $300, with Mike McDonnell and Todd Andersen’s guitar improvisations taking second with $150, and Karim Iliya coming in third and receiving $75 for his harmonica beatboxing.

Most of the entertainment on stage, but not all, was musical in nature, but all the performances were fairly diverse. Acts included student rock band Moonlight Orchestra, singing original tunes with psychedelic guitar and soulful violin; duo Southern Comfort with a playful R&B song; singer/songwriter Caroline Calderon, who also performed at Barrio Fiesta on March 26 and 27; and acoustic musician and boy-next-door Chris Hansen with his song “Thanks.”

There was a variety of covers, such as Paramore’s “Misery Business,” performed by In All Seriousness, a band made up of freshmen Kevin Yeung and Samuel Rusu and sophomores Adam Unger and Chloe Nakano; and a cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” that launched cheering audience members down memory lane. Kyle O’Brien, freshman, offered a fresh breath of bluegrass amid pop and alternative, demonstrating his skill at the fiddle and mandolin, aided by guest and fellow Earl Brothers band member Tom Lucas on banjo.

The members of USF’s Hawaiian Ensemble entertain the audience with a hula dance, dressed in full Tahitian regalia. Photo by Valeri Aragon/Foghorn

Not all of the performances involved singing or playing instruments. Junior Matthew Montenegro, a self-described “passionate dancer,” performed a complicated hip hop routine. Super senior Anthony Rivera also broke out his dance moves before rolling out the good-naturedly self-deprecatory Asian stereotypes for his stand-up comedy act.

Aside from independent student bands or solo artists, campus groups also made an appearance. Jazz Voices, a 12-person vocal ensemble, jumped on the “Glee” bandwagon with an encore performance of “Don’t Stop Believing,” and the USF Hawaiian Ensemble concluded the show with a three-part performance including Tahitian dance and Hawaiian ukulele reggae.

For the most part, the audience enjoyed the experience, taking two hours out of a Wednesday night to relax. The experience was quite different behind the heavy red curtains of the stage.

“This was my first substantial performance, having only previously played in front of some family and friends, so this was an experience indeed,” said Andersen, who has been playing guitar since 7th grade, and whose decision to participate in USF’s Got Talent was a spur-of-the-moment choice.

Despite this inexperience and lack of practice, “when the time rolled around to get nerves, I didn’t, and thus my subsequent performance was very relaxed and natural,” Andersen said. “The thrill of performing in front of an audience, and in my estimation, performing quite well, is unlike anything I’ve previously encountered. I’d love to be up there playing for much longer.”

With his share of the prize money, Andersen plans to buy a trumpet and explore his other untapped musical talents.


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