When the six finalists in the Dartmouth Idol singing competition take the stage on Friday night, the group will include a women’s hockey player (Katie Horner ’11), a defensive end on the football team (Michael Tree ’13), two members of the a cappella group Dodecaphonics (Andrew Purpura ’11 and Dan Van Deusen ’11), and two members of X.ado (Jamie Hwang ’10 and Kevin Oh ’12), Dartmouth’s Christian a cappella group.Dartmouth College Gospel Choir.
Dartmouth Idol is open to all currently enrolled undergraduate students and is sponsored and produced by the Hopkins Center for the Arts, in cooperation with the Office of the Provost. In addition to bringing together students from all corners of campus, Dartmouth Idol has also proven to be a hugely popular event. Based on the hit TV show, American Idol, the singing competition features judges (although none with Simon Cowell’s sour disposition), and the audience ultimately votes for the winner. Advance ticket sales have been brisk, and a record 75 students auditioned for the show. Cunningham says the caliber of performers was so high this year that 30 singers deserved spots in the semifinal. Ultimately 18 performers were selected (Cunningham usually takes 16) and that field was further narrowed to six on February 9.
Since then, Cunningham has been putting in long hours to prepare the show and rehearse the singers and a 10-piece band. This year’s event will feature a Michael Jackson medley (with a special guest performer), as well as two vocal selections by each contestant. “The students select one song and I pick one,” says Cunningham. “This is a great way to expose them to different music and also to make sure we have songs that appeal to our diverse crowds here in the Upper Valley. I tell the students that I have to pick at least one song for a lady I call Aunt Vera, who’s 94 and comes to all the shows. So last year one of the performers sang ‘Lush Life,’ a Duke Ellington piece.”
Cunningham has produced demo CDs for 2008 Idol winner Liz Vaughan ’08 and 2009 champ Michael Odokara-Okigbo ’12, which will be available for sale at this year’s show. He also just completed his latest compilation CD of Christian and gospel music, Walt Cunningham Presents All God’s Children – Vol. 1, which is officially being released on March 9 but is already available on iTunes, Amazon.com, and Rhapsody.com. The CD features three songs by the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir, as well as performances by Ikechi Ogbonna ’06, David Jiles ’06, Jonathan Beach ’07, Michele Smith ’08, Anike Adekoya ’08, Louisa Thompson ’08, and Khadijah Bermiss ’08, who wrote her own material. Bermiss also recorded a solo CD with Cunningham, which will be released this spring.
“My new CD is a celebration of inspiring music,” Cunningham says of his follow-up to 2007’s I Feel the Spirit. “It includes the Dartmouth Gospel Choir’s stirring rendition of ‘America the Beautiful,’ which everyone always inquires about, and it’s got an a cappella version of ‘Amazing Grace’ that people also always ask for. But it also has our trademark song ‘When all God’s Children Get Together (What a Time),’ which is the song that really signifies what this group stands for. Dartmouth Idol is the same way. We have people coming together from all parts of the College. That’s what it’s all about.”