Some 125 people crammed into the third floor of the Hillel Jewish University Center on Thursday evening to listen to 29 students from universities around Pittsburgh make their case to move on to the finals of the seventh edition of Campus Superstar.
The 29 students were narrowed down from the original 150 who auditioned this past November. Contestants represented the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Point Park University and Duquesne University and hailed from all over the country.
Each contestant that performed had a cheering section of their own, and unseasoned eyes and ears would not have found many mistakes in their offerings to the judges.
At the end of the evening, however, the 29 contestants were whittled down to 10 who would have the opportunity to sing for $5,000 and serious bragging rights at Carnegie Music Hall in the finals on March 21.
The finalists came overwhelmingly from Carnegie Mellon, which was represented by six of the 10 winners, with the remaining four coming from Point Park, Pitt and Duquesne, boasting two, one and one finalists, respectively. A common streak in all of the finalists was their majors, all of which were in some form of the performing arts.
Rocky Paterra, who led off the semifinal round with his rendition of “Hurt” by Christina Aguilera, is the only contestant from Pitt to advance to the final round. An Upper St. Clair native, he majors in theater arts at Pitt. In addition to being the school’s sole representative in Campus Superstar’s finals, Paterra is also the Pittsburgh area’s only hometown contestant.
Pietra DelPizzo, from Ardmore, Pa., is a musical theater major at Duquesne, and is the only finalist from her school. She sang “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel.
Wood Van Meter of Lexington, Ky., sang “I Got A Feelin’ ” by Billy Currington for the judges and is one of two contestants from Point Park to move on to the final round. Van Meter majors in musical theater.
Also from Point Park, Allison Griffith, sang “I Will Prevail” from the musical “Wonderland.” The musical theater major is from Redding, Conn.
Contestants from Carnegie Mellon make up the rest of the slate of Campus Superstar’s finalists.
Amanda Smith sang “How ’Bout A Dance” from the musical “Bonnie and Clyde.” The musical theater major is from Dade City, Fla.
Fellow musical theater majors from CMU — Emily Koch, Rayquila Durham, and Jean Floradin — will also sing at Carnegie Music Hall.
Koch is from Los Angeles and sang “Blues in the Night,” sung by Ella Fitzgerald, and Durham, from Atlanta, sang “I Believe in You and Me” by the Four Tops. Floradin, of Miami, sang “My Funny Valentine,” sung by Frank Sinatra.
Casey Cott, an acting major from Cleveland, performed his way into the finals with a rendition of “I’m Your Man” by Leonard Cohen.
Also an acting major, Jimmy Mason advanced on his performance of “Johanna” from the musical “Sweeney Todd.” Mason is from Palo Alto, Calif.
The 10 finalists will have about two months to prepare for their big night at Carnegie Music Hall. The finals competition has grown into a well-attended annual spectacle that has featured well-known judges such as Richard Rauh, actor and drama critic; Etta Cox, Pittsburgh jazz vocalist; and Eric Gold, producer, talent agent and Pittsburgh native.
This year’s event is honoring Jared Cohon, outgoing CMU president, and is dedicated to the memory of Ellen Weiss Kander, a former chair of Campus Superstar and co-founder of the Steeltown Entertainment Project.
(Sam Lapin can be reached at email@example.com.)