R Factor auditions narrow season 14 to 8 contestants

By Tristan E. M. Leach

If someone were to ask members of the Rider community what their favorite campus tradition is, they may get several answers. However, there is one experience that many students agree on: R Factor.

On Sept. 15, the Yvonne Theater bloomed with excited students and staff to watch auditions for season 14 of R Factor. Twenty-one eager students competed for eight spots in the finale. Unlike the finale on Sept. 22 where the winner is picked by the audience, the panel of judges pick who will remain on stage on one of the four coveted black leather couches.

The panel included returners Dani Knight, Heather Thompson and Nick Barbati with new judge Trevor Penick. Barbati, assistant vice president of student affairs, started the show after seeing what a hit “X Factor” was. 

“[R Factor] got started because in 2012 we got asked in Campus Life to come up with a new program that would separate Rider from everybody else. In the moment I couldn’t think of what that program would be. And then I was in a barber chair and there was a commercial for this new show coming to America called the X Factor. [The commercial] was spotlighting everything that made X Factor different from what American Idol was … and I thought that would be so cool to bring to Rider,” said Barbati.

Barbati’s instincts that R Factor would be a hit were correct. This year’s auditions saw several returning students including junior communications major Michaela Smith, junior music production major Jennie Mae Sprouse and senior global supply major KC O’Brien. Several of the returning students received cheers from the audience, who were clearly happy to see that their favorite singer had not given up on being the R Factor champion.

Audience members wave along to a contestant’s performance.
Audience members wave along to a contestant’s performance. Photo by Tristan E. M. Leach.

Riley Mozes, a graduate student in the organizational leadership program and Marques Merriweather, a graduate student in the business of administration program, were this year’s hosts and invoked the excitement the audience members were feeling. Each student got an introduction from one of the two hosts. After the performances, either Mozes or Merriweather asked the judges for their feedback and if the contestant was getting a seat.

 Throughout the night, the iconic black couches saw many changes as the judges made decisions that were  not always a hit with the audience. However, with a smile on their faces and a hug or high-five, the students congratulated each other on their performance and earning a place on the stage. 

In the end, four lucky students were in the seats. Each student was randomly assigned one of the four judges as their coach for the upcoming finale. Junior musical theater major Breanna Lemerise was paired with Thompson, O’Brien with Penick, Sprouse with Barbati and freshman English major Kamanay Blecher with Knight. After the four students found out who their coaches would be, each judge picked a wild card from the remaining contestants to compete in this week’s finale. Penick chose junior music production major Chuck “The Prophet” Wilmore, Knight chose returner to the competition senior arts and entertainment industries management major Ida DeMarco, Barbati chose sophomore Rosalyn Tiangco, another AEIM major, and Thompson chose returner Sela McMullen, a sophomore voice performance major. 

There were cheers from the audience and students started to file out as they congratulated their favorite finalist of the night before they met with their coaches for the first time. 

Outside, in the chilly night air, students shared their opinions and their predictions for the upcoming finals. 

Judges give feedback to contestants after their performance.
Judges give feedback to contestants after their performance. Photo by Tristan E. M. Leach.

Aileen Pujols, a junior acting major said, “R Factor this year was for sure interesting, there were a lot of characters. I think someone who really deserved a seat was [Sprouse]. She is always so talented and she is always so connected with the music.”

The finale of season 14 of R Factor is  Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Yvonne Theater. Who will be this year’s R Factor champion? 

Jay Roberson is an editor for The Rider News and auditioned for season 14 of R Factor. Roberson had no part in the writing or editing of this article. 

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