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UniVoice 2012: Putting the popularity vote to the test

Sumisha Naidu

Fri Oct 19 2012


STYLED after popular reality singing competitions, UniVoice 2012 showcased the talents of university students in Australia and even featured celebrity judges like Chris Sebastian. But was it all just a popularity contest or did the best person win?

The thing about reality singing shows is that you never really know why someone wins them in the end. Does a contestant make it to the finals because they have the backing of a celebrity judge? Is it because of the number of friends, family and crazy fans they have cheering them on (like this one who put in close to 2,000 votes for her favourite American Idol contestant)? Or is it just their pure talent, which then pulls in the votes?

UniVoice 2012 was a project that saw all these elements at play. The singing competition, organised by UniSquare, had the reality show formula down pat at the grand final last week:

  • fourteen contestants showing off their musical prowess (more on them later)
  • well-respected judges to critique them, namely singer and The Voice contestant Chris Sebastian; the founder and director of Vocal Art Studios, Liz Tripodi; and the founder and director of Supafeme Touring, Thai Ho.
  • an audience of voters who would decide who made it into the next round.

Obviously, all of this was done on a much smaller scale than any show we’ve ever seen on TV. It was a student-run event and there were quite a few technical issues throughout the night. And the audience, understandably, was not thousands of people packed into an arena – but around 500 university students and friends and families of the contestant comfortably seated at St Kilda’s Town Hall.

But the talent? They weren’t “small scale” by any means. In fact, a number of them blew the audience – and the judges – away.

It was a night of variety. Not only did the contestants come from diverse backgrounds and countries, their performances covered a range of styles and genres too.

There were  laid-back deliveries of crowd favourites, such as by Indonesian-born Aldy Saputra who performed an acoustic rendition of Valerie by The Zutons.  Eventhough his guitar playing was marred by technical glitches, Aldy persevered, gaining the admiration of the judges along the way.

“What you did was absolutely the making of a true professional,” enthused the pitch perfect judge, Liz.

Then there were the diva-esque vocal stylings from the likes of Indonesian Jessica Saputra – appropriately attired in a dazzling, sequinned dress – and Malaysian Elena Wong.  The latter contributed to one of the more amusing moments of the night by choosing to sing  “Angels Brought Me Here”  – a number by Guy Sebastian, who happens to be (yes, we have to say it) Chris’ older brother.

“I kinda know the guy that sang that song,” he laughed, before delivering his critique.

Of course, the men didn’t fail to charm the judges and the audiences either. Robbie Marshall, Adarsh Nair, Akshat Mishra, Marcus Low and Ryan Kristianto each put on a show in their own right. In fact, Ryan probably delivered one of the surprise performances of the night. The contestant was so nervous about entering UniVoice, his friend had to submit his entry form for him.

Thai summed up what many were thinking after Ryan’s soulful delivery of Howie Day’s “Collide”:

“I’m surprised such a good talent could be so shy to do this.”

Some of our personal favourite performances came from the girls though – HaNy Lee with Adele’s “Make you feel my love”, Rachel Low’s beautiful rendition of “One and Only”, also by Adele, Sarah Wilkinson with “Free” by Hayley Reinhart and Angeline Armstrong with her original number, described by Chris as “hauntingly beautiful”.

The only duo of the night, Hannah Doery and Nathan Cooper, also roused the crowd with their impressive harmonising. But they may have been disadvantaged by being too good, having the support of each other and a three-piece band while other contestants sang alone.

After the first round and the judges feedback came the voting, leaving the competition to the final 4: Robbie Marshall, Adarsh Nair, HaNy Lee and Angeline Armstrong.

The rest of the night was about the contestants winning over the support of everyone in the audience who had been there rooting for someone else. And in the end, one person came on top well ahead of the rest – HaNy Lee, only 19, but with more experience under her belt than most, having performed solo at Hisense Arena and Sydney Opera House, among others.

“I’m just completely overwhelmed,” she told Meld after the show.

“I definitely didn’t expect it because…just look at the talent up there.

“I’ve been practicing every single day at home, I’ve been annoying my mum at home because she’s been listening to the same song over and over everyday, so it’s been hard for everyone!”

Photo: Jun-Yeu Mah

Angeline Armstrong, who chose to sing Alphaville’s “Forever Young” as her second song, was runner-up. The 19-year-old media and communications student said she was “very grateful” for the win.

“I sing a lot but I’ve never joined a competition before,” she explains.

Adarsh and Robbie came in third and fourth places respectively.

So did talent, popularity or the judges determine who won UniVoice 2012? In this instance, it seemed like all three played a part. The contestants were each abundantly talented in their own rights, they all clearly had  the support of friends and family in the crowd, and the judges delivered thoughtful criticism that would make anyone pause and think before delivering their vote.

Having been through the reality show hoops himself on The Voice, Chris told Meld with confidence that the winners were all deserving.

“In a university setting, some people have more friends than others, and that’s going to play a factor,” he says.

“However, tonight I think the best person won.”

Chris also heaped praise on the rest of the finalists.

“I saw potential in people, I thought they were great on the night,” he says.

“However, sometimes the second song is not as great and that was kind of a downfall.”

As for the reality show format, Chris thinks that could well be the competition’s greatest draw.

“The concept more than anything was great!” he enthuses.

Do you agree? Who were your favourite performers of the night?