More finalists from CMU named for March 21 Campus Superstar finale

More finalists from CMU named for March 21 Campus Superstar finale

Three more finalists have been named in the 2013 “Campus Superstar” competition. They are among the 10 finalists who will vie for a $5,000 grand prize Thursday, March 21, at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

Emily Koch, Amanda Smith and Jimmy Mason, all Carnegie Mellon University students, will be singing in front of an estimated audience of 1,200. Three other finalists have already been named. The rest of the field will be announced in next week’s Chronicle.

“Campus Superstar” is an “American Idol”-like singing competition run by the Hillel Jewish University Center (JUC). Jill Machen, who teaches drama at Winchester Thurston School, created the first “Campus Superstar” in 2007 and will be directing this year’s production. “Every year, I’m amazed at the number of talented singers who audition. It’s a challenge to pick 10 finalists,” she said.

The road to “Campus Superstar” 2013 might have started earliest for Koch, a senior from Los Angeles, who began her singing and acting careers at age 5 when she played the part of Gretel in a community theater’s production of “The Sound of Music.”

Not far behind is Amanda Smith, a freshman from Dade City, Fla., who began formal singing and acting lessons during her freshman year of high school, and has been singing her whole life.

Jimmy Mason, a senior from Palo Alto, Calif., was the latest to enter the musical theater game. He decided to try acting during the three-month break in his team’s water polo season during his sophomore year of high school.

After discovering his talent in musical theater, Mason began to take singing lessons with the help of his chorus teacher and a few years later decided to apply to acting school.

“It makes me happy and it brings people together,” Mason said of singing. “Through ‘Campus Superstar,’ I have met a lot of good people and that is all thanks to singing.”

Koch struck a similar chord. “I love singing more than anything else in the world,” she said. “I love how it makes me feel and I love how a voice can make others feel. It is the greatest expression of bliss in the world.”

Smith said that she loves to sing simply because people sing when “the words are too powerful to merely speak.”

Smith is a musical theater major at CMU, as are Koch and Mason. Although her studies have given her a great appreciation for Broadway show tunes, she still has a soft spot for another genre.

“As a Southern girl who grew up on a ranch, I love my country music.”

It was just as difficult for Koch and Mason to pick their favorite types of music to sing.

“I think I’d have to go with classic rock,” said Koch. “But I also love jazz and musical theater. It’s hard to pick a favorite.”

In the same vein, Mason said, “I love singing rock and jazz. If I’m listening to music on iTunes, if one song in my library is metal, the next might be Justin Bieber.

“I do a lot of singing on my own and to get the chance to sing with others is definitely a gift,” he said.

In fact, many “Campus Superstar” participants are involved with performances throughout the school year. Sharon Weil, event coordinator, who recently attended the CMU production of “Spring Awakening,” noticed that “three-quarters of the cast has been a part of “Campus Superstar.”

For Koch and Smith, however, “Campus Superstar” is a brand new experience.

Koch said, “I’d gone the past three years in a row and had an absolutely wonderful time at the showings and thought that it was something I wanted to be a part of.”

Smith, on the other hand, was hesitant to audition because she is a freshman. “My friends convinced me to go and I couldn’t be happier or more thankful that they did.”

Koch, Smith and Mason all had various ideas of what might set them apart from the other contestants.

Koch said that her ability to touch her tongue to her nose could help her edge out her fellow finalists.

Smith speculated that the connection she develops between herself, the song and her audience might be the push she needs to beat out her competition.

Now in its seventh year, “Campus Superstar” is produced by the Hillel JUC, which is the sole beneficiary of proceeds from the event. The Hillel JUC serves more than 5,500 18-to 29-year-olds in Pittsburgh’s university and young adult communities. This year’s event is co-chaired by Linda Safyan Holber and Katie Whitlach.

Tickets to Campus Superstar are available through Hillel JUC’s website,, or by calling Caryn Goldenberg at 412-621-8875, ext. 112.