By Tristan E. M. Leach
Standing hand in hand center stage, Ida DeMarco, a senior arts and entertainment industries management major, and Lilli Doll, a sophomore musical theater major, wait. After three knockout rounds of powerful singing, Doll and DeMarco are the last standing, and one of them will be the winner of “R Factor Remix.”
On Jan. 26, the Student Entertainment Council brought back the beloved singing competition, “R Factor.” The show celebrated its 12-year anniversary on the same day as the competition and invited students to send an audition tape for the opportunity to perform in front of a live audience and judges.
This version, however, was different from its fall semester sister production. Eight student singers started the show, whereas in the fall, 16 students were welcomed to the Yvonne Theater stage.
Nick Barbati, assistant vice president of student affairs, decided bringing back the show was a good way to get students to leave their dorms and connect with their community. Barbati’s idea was proven correct as the Yvonne Theater filled with students excited to support their friends and family members.
Along with DeMarco, a returner to “R Factor,” and Doll, six other students performed in “R Factor Remix”. KC O’Brien, a senior global supply chain major, and Jennie Mae Sprouse, a junior sociology major, both returned to compete in “R Factor Remix” after performing in the fall 2023 competition.
Just like Doll, four other newcomers made their “R Factor” debut: Kyler Montague, a junior communications major; Maggie Kleiner, a junior graphic design major; Yusef Collins-Bryant, a senior music production major and Jeremy Burrell, a sophomore cybersecurity major.
Just as in the fall, Marques Merriweather, a graduate student in the business administration program, and Riley Mozes, a graduate student in the organizational leadership program, hosted the show.
Singers were guaranteed to perform once, each showing off their voices with a song of their choosing.
Songs included titles like “Don’t Know Why” by “Nora Jones and “Turning Tables” by Adele. After finishing their songs competitors received feedback from three of the four judges.
This semester’s judges were rapper Ezra Hill, “X Factor” finalist and returning “R Factor” judge Dani Knight, recording artist and “Rider Drag” performer Jolina Jasmine and Barbati.
In the first round it was up to the judges who would make it to round two.
After the first elimination, round two contestants were DeMarco, Collins-Bryant, Montague and Doll.
When speaking of Doll’s first performance, Barbati said, “The feeling … it just comes pouring out.” The feeling of power and emotion as described by Barbati moved Doll to the second round.
Collins-Bryant’s stunning performance of “Alfie,” popularized by Dionne Warwick, had the judges in tears. His classically trained voice grabbed the audience’s attention and got Collins-Bryant to the second round. Knight praised Collins-Bryant’s voice for its power and beauty.
DeMarco sang Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” with what Barbati called perfect pitch. Barbati’s kind words moved DeMarco to tears, prompting her to tearfully ask him for a hug, which Barbati happily gave.
Montague was the final choice of the judges. His song’s dedication to his cousin moved the audience and judges alike.
“We found a star tonight,” said Barbati when giving Montague feedback.
In the second round contestants sang another song of their choice, a difference from the original competition, where judges become coaches and help their contestants pick songs that suit their personality and voice.
First up was DeMarco, who sang Taylor Swift’s “Style” in a ballad style. After her song was finished, thunderous applause filled the theater.
Jasmine said, “You sang that so beautifully.”
Collins-Bryant followed DeMarco, singing “I Am Love,” by Jennifer Holliday. Collins-Bryant’s sweet voice brought the judges to tears once again.
Knight said, “Your voice is so soothing.”
Next up was Montague who performed “Clouded,” by Brent Faiyaz, which left audience members a bit surprised by its sexually-explicit lyrics. After recovering from the initial shock, Barbati praised Montague for the brave choice.
“I want every artist to be their authentic self,” said Barbati.
To finish up the second round, Doll, who goes by they/them pronouns, performed “Piece of My Heart,” made popular by Janis Joplin. Doll’s powerful vocals had the audience whooping and cheering throughout their performance.
Knight praised Doll saying, “Ezra and I agreed we’re getting tickets to your first show. This is what you were made to do.”
Now it was the audience’s turn to decide who would make it to the final round. Using text message voting, it was decided that DeMarco and Doll would be the final two.
Before they would sing their last song, fall semester R Factor winner Kamanay Belcher, a freshman English major, performed “Riptide” by Vance Joy. The audience cheered for Belcher as she sang along with her familiar turquoise ukulele.
For her last song of the evening, DeMarco sang Billie Eilish’s “idontwannabeyouanymore.”
Doll followed with “I Have Nothing,” performed by Whitney Houston.
After the two performances finished, it was time for audience members to vote on the winner. DeMarco and Doll walked onto the stage, side by side. Merriweather and Mozes came out on stage and together announced the winner.
Doll’s name was called and the audience burst into loud applause and cheers. Doll broke into a wide smile. Giddy with excitement, Doll hugged their mom, who had flown in from Ohio to watch Doll perform.
When asked how they felt, Doll said, “So much joy and gratitude. To get that response from the audience from my performance. I have been telling people I can do what I did … for months. I just needed the opportunity to show up and show people that side of myself. So getting such a positive response … was so fulfilling.”
Maggie Kleiner is the photo editor for The Rider News and was a competitor in R Factor Remix. Kleiner had no part in the writing or editing of this article.