The estimated 1,000 audience members at the Carnegie Music
Hall in Oakland last Thursday night were tasked with a pretty hard job: After hearing the 10 student finalists sing their respective hearts out at Campus Superstar, an annual event sponsored by the Hillel Jewish University Center, those in attendance had to choose a winner.
The contest was way too close to call before the votes were counted.
There were standout performances from Point Park University senior Patrick Bovo, who channeled the second son of King Charlemagne in a near perfect rendition of “Corner of the Sky;” Carnegie Mellon Uni-versity musical theater major Erika Olson, who belted out “Until Now” with the stage presence of a well-seasoned chanteuse; and Point Park musical theater major Tyler Jetter, whose “Proud Mary” was performed with energy and attitude.
But the title of Campus Superstar 2015 ultimately went to John Clay, III, a CMU freshman, for his smooth and sensitive delivery of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “A House is not a Home.”
Along with a check for $5,000, Clay won the coveted Elly Award, named in memory of Ellen Weiss Kander, a local supporter of the arts who passed away in 2012 at the age of 51.
Bovo took the first runner-up prize and received a check for $1,000. The second runner-up, CMU musical theater major Jor-dan Bolden, won $750 for his upbeat rendition of “That’s Life.”
Campus Superstar is an “American Idol”-like solo singing competition that features students from Pittsburgh-area colleges, including the University of Pittsburgh, CMU, Point Park and Duquesne University. Although more than 100 hopefuls auditioned in November, only 27 students qualified for the semifinals, which were held on Feb. 15. Ten students were chosen from that pool to go on to the final round at the Carnegie Music Hall in a professionally produced show that included both an opening and closing number showcasing the talents of the 10 finalists as an ensemble.
During the finale, a tribute to “Jersey Boys,” Kyle Coughlin, a senior from Point Park, and Nathan Salstone from CMU, each managed to conjure a pretty convincing Frankie Valli as the group covered such hits as “Sherry Baby,” “Oh, What a Night,” and “Walk like a Man.”
Daniel Mayhak, a freshman business major at Pitt; Caroline Pluta, a junior acting major at CMU; and Kyle Uricchio, a sophomore English major at Pitt, all proved with their euphonious voices that talent can be found beyond the halls of the musical theater departments.
Campus Superstar is Hillel JUC’s largest fundraiser of the year, said Dan Marcus, executive director and CEO of the organization.
“The proceeds go to the important work of seeing that the largest number of students engaging with Hillel JUC is possible,” Marcus said. Each year, Hillel JUC serves an estimated 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students, coming from diverse backgrounds.
While last week’s event marked the ninth year Campus Superstar was held in Pittsburgh, the competition has been replicated by several other Hillels throughout the country.
Tonia Caruso of WQED and Comcast Newsmakers served as the emcee; the show was directed by Jill Machen. A special guest appearance was made by the winner of Campus Superstar 2014, Joshua Grosso, who performed “I’m Your Man.”
Natalie and Judge Larry Kaplan were honored at the event for their six decades of involvement with Hillel JUC as well as numerous other community organizations.
The event was co-chaired by Lynne Jacobson and Dodie Roskies.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.