Kamanay Belcher wins season 14 of R Factor with ukulele performance 

The Rider News incorrectly printed Jennie Mae Sprouse’s major, Jennie Mae is a sociology major. The Rider News regrets the error.

By Hannah Newman

Freshman English major Kamanay Belcher bet on herself, and became the season 14 R Factor champion with a ukulele rendition of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley.

“One thing I learned was to trust myself. Some people had given me some suggestions and I thought to myself ‘I don’t know if that’s the move and I went with what I thought was best and it turned out pretty great,” said Belcher. 

On Sept. 22, the Rider community swarmed Yvonne Theater early hoping to reserve their seat for the opportunity to see their friends perform at the R Factor finale. Eight finalists from auditions were paired with one of the four judges–Vice President of Student Affairs Nick Barbati, Dani Knight, Heather Thompson and Trevor Penick–and prepared for the final show within a week. 

First to perform was sophomore voice performance major Sela McMullen from Team Dani, with a personal spin on “Rolling in the Deep,” by Adele.

The audience sways their flashlights during a slow song.
The audience sways their flashlights during a slow song. Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn D’Alessio.

“Here’s the thing about you Sela, you’re so dedicated to putting on a show, right? You are just unforgettable Sela at all moments. But the truth of the matter is, you are such a vocal powerhouse and you are so comfortable on that stage and that’s what it’s all about,” said Barbati.

Up next was senior arts and entertainment industry management major Ida DeMarco, who also on Team Dani and sang “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor. 

The judges were rather astonished by DeMarco’s ability to change the demeanor of such an upbeat song and turn it into something more intimate, referring to her performance as “a journey.”

“I was so connected with you and the way you connected with the song,” said Penick. 

DeMarco was followed by junior music production major Chuck “The Prophet” Wilmore on Team Trevor with an original rap that had the audience sitting at the edge of their seats waiting to hear every lyric.

Wilmore pulled the audience in from the moment he stepped foot on stage, bringing a new energy to the theater.

The judges matched the crowd’s energy and noted that they could feel the passion Wilmore had. “You’ve got a fire in your eye, and that’s what a real performer actually has,” said Barbati. “You’re seeing your future, you are doing it right here in front of us right now. You can see it in your eyes that you have a dream,”said Penick.

Sophomore AEIM major Rosalyn Tiangco tightened the room’s rowdy energy by absorbing the audience with a performance of “Ocean Eyes” by Billie Eilish.

Tiangco received a roaring response from the crowd, as she opened up to the audience. 

“I think the best part of that performance was truly how vulnerable you allowed yourself to be and while many people in this audience might know you already, you allowed them to form a connection with you in this moment,” said Barbati.

Bringing back the upbeat energy was junior musical theater major Breanna Lemerise with “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood. 

The performance portrayed a story to the audience and grasped its attention within seconds of the song. The power behind every lyric illustrated the connection she had with her performance. 

“You are just fun to watch in general. Watching your expressions and how much you get into the song and again my favorite thing is when someone tells a story and you told that story and you owned that story,” said Knight. 

Belcher stands with the judges and her winning plaque.
Belcher stands with the judges and her winning plaque. Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn D’Alessio.

Coming from the audience was junior music production major Jennie Mae Sprouse with her eye-catching performance of “Ceilings” by Lizzy McAlpine. 

Barbati said he felt the performance brought an angelic feeling and that her efforts could be felt from miles away. 

“Your vocals are so pure and so angel-like, it was so stunningly beautiful and everyone could feel your hard work,” said Barbati. 

Belcher’s version of “Crazy” stunned the audience with her voice. The judges were floored by Belcher’s use of vocals and told her that they were  certain that her work will sell one day. 

“Your voice is unbelievable, I truly think you have the most interesting vocals of anybody in this competition,” said Barbati. “Not every song can translate to the ukulele, you have to really work to connect to a song like that and you so fully embraced that moment.”

Last to perform was returning R Factor contestant and senior global supply chain major KC O’Brien who sang “Beautiful Crazy,” by Luke Combs.

O’Brien never failed to rally up the crowd each and every time he took the stage with cheers before he started to sing, as he had done in prior years in the competition.  

After the eight contestants performed, the audience was able to vote for the two they wished to see in the final round. 

As votes were collected, junior film and television major Will Dusinberre, last year’s R Factor champion, sang “Let It Be” by The Beatles. 

After co-hosts Riley Mozes, a graduate student in the organizational leadership program and Marques Merriweather, a graduate student in the business administration program, revealed the two finalists which were O’Brien and Belcher, the judges then had to vote on one more finalist.

Their choices were Wilmore, Tiangco or DeMarco, for which DeMarco was chosen to move onto the final round. 

Belcher stands on stage among other contestants.
Belcher moves onto the last round. Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn D’Alessio.

O’Brien began the last round with “Go The Distance” by Michael Bolton, which gave the audience a lasting impression of his identity as a performer. 

“You went the distance man, you settled in, and you let the song do the work,” said Penick.

With another personal spin to a well-known song was DeMarco who sang “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons in a slower, calmer tone than the original which wowed the judges yet again. 

“You totally took that song and made it your own… amazing,” said Knight. 

Last to compete in the finals was Belcher with yet another ukulele performance of “Love On The Brain” by Rihanna. 

The performance left the judges speechless leaving just the audience to define how well it was. 

“I don’t even need to say anything, we’ll just let the audience talk,” said Knight. 

In determining the winner, the audience had 45 seconds to vote. Everyone texted in their votes frantically and gave Belcher the title of season 14 R Factor Champion.

Mozes shared her thoughts on how each performer transformed themselves in just a week and how the show impacted her experience as a co-host. 

“I think just watching everyone go from what they think is a super confident version of themselves to now seeing everyone blossom on stage is really exciting,” said Mozes. “I really enjoyed being able to hype up the crowd for our performers.”

To watch the R Factor finale click here.

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