Casey Cott, Rayquila Durham and Jean Floradin are three of the 10 finalists for Campus Superstar, an “American Idol”-like singing competition among Pittsburgh’s university students run by the Hillel Jewish University Center. They, along with seven other contestants, will compete for a $5,000 prize at Carnegie Music Hall on March 21.
Although these three finalists are students in Carnegie Mellon’s University musical theater program, each got started singing in very different ways.
Durham grew up in Atlanta attending a Seventh Day Adventist Church and private school. She found herself volunteering to sing as part of the morning devotional and when she wasn’t singing hymns, she was “standing in the middle of the backseat of my grandmother’s car, singing along with the radio.”
Floradin traces the start of his musical career to his preschool years in Miami when he was 4. His class sang R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” at its graduation ceremony. When Floradin wasn’t chosen as the lead singer, it motivated him to improve his vocal skills.
Cott’s interest in performance began much later. During his sophomore year of high school in Cleveland, his mother wanted him to join his older brother and sister in the school’s production of
“Oklahoma.” After some initial resistance, which ended with a deal that paid Cott $50 to join the production, his interest in musical performance took off.
Cott’s family wasn’t the only one that served as an inspiration — Durham said that her mother taught her that singing could serve as an outlet to deal with life’s challenges.
“Growing up I saw my mother working her hardest to support my brothers and me,” she said. “Whenever she was tired or whenever there was pain or hardship on her shoulders, she sang. So, like her, when I look out into the world and see pain — or experience it myself — I sing.”
Floradin seconded the therapeutic aspects of singing.
“Singing has been a form of therapy for me at some of the hardest points in my life,” he said. “And those rare moments when I’m able to fully lose myself in a song are the moments when I feel truly at one with myself.”
After failing to advance past the first round of auditions at last year’s Campus Superstar, Floradin said that he used that experience to motivate himself when he entered this year’s competition.
Campus Superstar 2013, however, is a first for Durham and Cott, both of whom are freshmen.
Durham said that she entered Campus Superstar as a way to make herself stand out in a very competitive world.
Cott, on the other hand, saw his brother compete in Campus Superstar four years ago and watched his future roommate in last year’s final.
“It looked like a fun thing to do,” he said.
Only a select few people involved with the competition will know before the finals what song each contestant will sing. The contestants’ favorite genres, however, might hint at the direction of their choices.
Although he is in the musical theater program at CMU, Cott said that a show tune would be one of the last songs he would choose to sing. Rather, he prefers to sing jazz, blues or rock ‘n’ roll.
Floradin also prefers jazz, although he grew up singing gospel music in church. He also said that he finds that jazz allows him to take some risks and to be creative while singing.
Durham went in a different direction with her favorite musical genre.
“Old school reggae is definitely my favorite genre,” she said. “Bob Marley, my hero, has definitely shaped and molded my music choices.”
When discussing what sets them apart from the other contestants, Durham, Floradin and Cott all erred toward humility.
Durham simply left it at, “I believe we are all different.”
By contrast, Cott and Floradin were more expansive.
Floradin said that, although he is grateful to be one of only 10 finalists, what sets him apart is his desire to leave a part of himself with the audience.
“All of the contestants are great,” said Cott. “I hope that even if I sound terrible, everyone will say that he has a lot of passion and that he loves what he does.”
Tickets to Campus Superstar are available through Hillel JUC’s website, hilleljuc.org, or by calling Caryn Goldenberg at 412-621-8875, ext. 112.
(Sam Lapin can be reached at email@example.com.)