‘Campus Superstar’ attracts capacity audience to Hillel fundraiser

‘Campus Superstar’ attracts capacity audience to Hillel fundraiser

The Campus Superstar competition crowned its 2012 winner Sunday at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

Annie Heise of Carnegie Mellon University is this year’s winner, taking home the $5,000 prize. The drama major from St. Paul, Minn., sang “I (Who Have Nothing)” to win the competition.

The second runner-up, Carlos Jimenez, is a freshman from Point Park University, while the first runner-up Josh Loebig is an engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh.

Now in its sixth year, sponsored by the Hillel Jewish University Center, Campus Superstar 2012 featured finalists from CMU, Pitt and Point Park.

“This event is so important because it builds community across generations and backgrounds,” said Susan Berman, the immediate past president of Hillel JUC. “Students, staff, board members, community leaders, representatives of corporations and politicians all come together for a fundraiser that is genuinely enjoyable.”

This year’s celebrity judges included KDKA-TV’s Ken Rice, Broadway veteran and Pittsburgh entertainer Lenora Nemetz, Pittsburgh comedienne Barbara Russell and jazz vocalist Etta Cox. In conjunction with the judges, the audience votes determined the final winner in typical “American Idol” style. Pittsburgh’s Campus Superstar is the largest of its kind in the country.

Ten Campus Superstar finalists were chosen Feb. 19 during the semifinal round, which was emceed by KDKA’s Larry Richert. They were Heise, Loebig, Jimenez, Casey Layne Anderson, Denee Benton, Dylan Schwartz-Wallach, Annie Yokum, Andrew Muse, Brittany Taylor Dorazio and Alex Fry.

The contestants were narrowed down from 160 students who auditioned, a record number of contestants competing this year.

“The talent was unbelievably great this year,” said the director of Campus Superstar, Jill Machen. “It was so tough to make the cuts. I think that this year’s performers are among the most talented that I have ever worked with in this competition.”

CMU senior Gillian Hassert won last year’s competition in front of a packed house, and performed again this year.

“This is a great way to get out there and impress not only the audience but yourself,” Hassert said. “Every opportunity to audition and perform is great experience even if you do not win. These finalists are already stronger for it.”

This year, best-selling novelist Iris Ranier Dart, a Pittsburgh native and author of  “Beaches,” was a distinguished guest of the show.

“All my dreams have come true and I want it for these kids,” Dart said. “I want them to know that it happens. You can make it happen.”

Added Gail Childs, the governing board chair of Hillel JUC, “The Campus Superstar program is great because you get up close and personal with the students. More than anything else, this is a fundraiser showcasing unbelievable talent for a good cause. But what it comes down to is that everyone involved has fun.”

Proceeds of Campus Superstar 2012 will benefit the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

The Hillel JUC is the umbrella organization for all Jewish campus life in Pittsburgh. Serving approximately 5,000 Jewish university students and young adults, the Hillel JUC mentors student leaders, encouraging activism in the community and spearheading awareness of causes ranging from environmental issues to social justice campaigns. The Hillel JUC also takes part in the community’s efforts to attract and retain young adults to our region.

(James Cahalan can be reached at JMCahalan@yahoo.com.)