Photo by Megan Saez-Co
When Grade 12 Richmond Secondary student Ysabelle Santa Ana was crowned the winner of RichCity Idol 2018, her abundant and enthusiastic crowd of fans went wild.
The theme of the singing competition’s 15th anniversary was “City of Stars,” but the unofficial theme threading its way through the night was celebrate your own unique voice. The evening saw 10 students from each of the Richmond high schools competing to be “the shiniest star out there,” according to co-hosts Anna Leung and Marinelle Sinlao. The co-hosts offered an evening of elegant introductions coupled with punny comments after each performer’s turn.
The three-member judges’ panel spanned the music scene. Bruce Nip is a producer and host of a weekly music show on Fairchild Radio. Known by her performing name, Michele C, is a songwriter and recording artist in the EDM and trance scene. Rounding out the group was Trevor Hoffman, a pianist, composer, and producer.
All 10 students sang “This Is Me” from 2017 film “The Greatest Showman” to open the show, as they gathered around three microphones, each with their own chance to shine during the number.
The first solo performance came from J.N. Burnett secondary student Darren Zhang, who chose John Legend’s “All of Me.” A different backing track came up first. Zhang waited calmly for his music to begin before delivering a strong ballad.
Judge C said: “Your falsetto was on point, and I really liked the emotion that you carried with the song,” While Hoffman added: “You have an amazing technical voice. This is not an easy song to sing.” After Zhong’s performance, when asked about his past, he mentioned his opportunity to get into the Voice of China provincial final. He said “I was so nervous on the stage.”
Eventual winner Santa Ana sang second, performing “Halo” by Beyoncé. Santa Ana handled the crowd well, asking them to use their phones to create beams of light befitting the song’s title.
Of her unaccompanied introductory chorus, C said “The intro was amazing. Doing it a cappella, your voice really shone through. Judge Hoffman said “There were moments when I saw the true queen shine. When you find those moments, just enjoy them and keep them going.” Her advice to new singers: “Don’t copy other people’s styles. It’s impossible to do. Just keep doing you.”
R.A. McMath secondary’s Julien Norrish, another Grade 12 student, also sang a Beyoncé song: “Listen.” Despite his microphone not working when he started, his confidence built. The audience recognized the song and clapped along.
Judge Nip said: “You were pushing all of your emotions through that microphone.”
C added: “You lost yourself in the song, and I love that.”
When asked about his other talents, Norrish said: “Not only am I a singer, I’m a dance captain at McMath secondary.” When the audience then shouted, Dance, dance!,” he laughed and said, “Maybe later.”
The youngest participant of the evening was Steveston-London secondary student Kiran Bassi, who is in Grade 8. She sang Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain,” and her performance was remarkable given that her backing music cut out after the first few stanzas. She continued a cappella, finishing out the chorus with professional stage presence beyond her years, before stopping to thunderous applause.
Judge Nip said: “Without the music I really truly heard your very talented voice. You hit every single note.” All three judges expressed a strong desire to hear Bassi sing again with the accompaniment as planned.
Judge Hoffman said: “If we can’t get the track working, I would be happy to come up and play piano for you.”
According to Bassi: “Music has been a part of my life since I was really really young. Music was just always there.”
Singing fifth was Brazilian exchange student Augusto Tonial, in Grade 12 at Hugh Boyd secondary. He chose Twenty One Pilots’ “House of Gold,” which is accompanied by ukulele in the original.
Tonial accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. When the lights came up, his fans shouted his name. He had stage presence to burn as he charmed the crowd. His guitar had no sound at first, so he stopped, waited for the sound people to turn up the volume. Once it was working, Tonial had the audience clap along.
Judge Nip said: “He is definitely golden on stage. You highlight the difference between a performer and an entertainer. I was truly entertained.” All three judges lauded his choice of song. When asked what he likes best about Canada, Tonial said without hesitation, “Tim Hortons!”
Francis Naluz, a Grade 12 student from Matthew McNair secondary, sang “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran, which gave way seamlessly to a surprise mashup with Coldplay’s “Fix You.” He also accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, true to Sheeran’s original song.
Judge Hoffman said: “I was incredibly moved by that. I got lost in your entire performance. That was the most emotional performance by far tonight. Just when I thought my heart could not be crushed anymore, you brought in that Coldplay.”
Naluz credited his music teacher Ms. Jan Berman: “She really pushed me to be the best I can be, both as a musician and as a person.”
R.C. Palmer secondary student Orvy Agoncillò chose Bruno Mars’s “Too Good to Say Goodbye.” Agoncillò delivered strong riffs that Judge C noticed: “There’s a sort of husky quality to (your voice) that I like.” Judge Hoffman said: “The colour of your tone is really unique, very warm and sultry. That was a highlight for me for sure. I think you made your parents very proud.” When interviewed, Agoncillò said: “Music is like a friend. If I ever have problems, it helps me.”
Next was Hugh McRoberts secondary student Flora Chen, who delivered a confident version of “This is My Now” by Jordin Sparks. In her interview, Chen said: “I was six when I came here from China. I didn’t know English. The way I learned it was through singing.”
Judge C said: “You slayed the high notes, and I really like that you have this quiet, unassuming confidence when you sing.”
Judge Hoffman added: “You really took me on a journey the whole time. There were moments of exuberance and moments of vulnerability.”
A.R. MacNeill secondary student Jeremy Tong was scheduled as the penultimate performer. He sang “A Million Dreams” from “The Greatest Showman,” which proved to be a choice supported by the judges.
Judge Nip said, “I kind of got lost watching you and the emotions on your face.”
Judge Hoffman praised Tong, “I’d say you’re probably one of the most engaging performers tonight because you just connected with the audience.”
When asked what music has done for him, Tong said it’s important because: “I’m not good at studying. Without music I’m just done.” His singing would be right at home in a Disney movie.
The last scheduled performance came from Cambie secondary student Tiana Noureddin, who chose “When I was Your Man” by Bruno Mars. Her stage movement looked professional, and she used the whole stage with confidence.
Judge C said: “I think it’s the little things that make a performance, and when you sat down towards the end, you were really vulnerable but you owned it, and it sounded amazing.”
Judges C and Hoffman compared her voice to the likes of Norah Jones.
Noureddin said: “Music is the one kind of art that I’m actually decent at.” While jazz may be in her future, her substantial scholarship to study engineering at the University of Victoria will take precedence for the next four years.
The audience erupted in cheers when Kiran Bassi got her second chance to sing, this time with the accompaniment as planned. With a voice mature beyond her years, Bassi nailed her second performance. She had the crowd with her all the way, clapping in time from the start.
Judge Nip singled her out as “absolutely one of the biggest highlights for me tonight.”
C said: “You have such a special and unique voice that if I heard you for the first time on the radio, I would completely remember you. You’re not trying to sing like anybody else, you’re completely singing like yourself.”
Hoffman agreed: “I could listen to thousands of singers and still pick your voice out. Always keep that. That’s going to be your greatest weapon moving forward.”
Throughout the night, hosts Leung and Sinlao mentioned the event’s sponsors: Richmond School District, Richmond City Centre Community Centre, CCIM Entertainment Group Addiction Sportswear, The Richmond Sentinel, Richmond Olympic Oval, DavidsTea, Nature’s Path Organic, Panago Pizza. Blanche Macdonald did the makeup, giving everyone on stage sparkling stars at the corners of their eyes.
After all the solo performances, hosts drew the door prizes. While all were welcomed, the two that brought the house down were Apex Adventure Plex’s passes and then even more so, five $50 gift certificates from White Spot.
The top three finalists won lessons from CCIM Entertainment Group. The winner additionally won a professional music video mixed and mastered by Blue Light Studios, which made the crowd literally “ooh” and “ahh.”
The top five Idols were Chen, Naluz, Santa Ana, Tong, and Bassi. Each performed a very brief a cappella taste from their number. During intermission, the audience voted for their choice for winner from among the top five.
After intermission, two CCIM groups gave enthusiastic performances: the Rising Stars and Cassie B Adam S. This was followed by two videos: one on the Richmond School District and one on CCIM Entertainment Group.
The hosts singled out Richmond School District’s Assistant Superintendent Wendy Lim for her support. According to Lim, they stepped in after spring break to ensure the event had adequate sponsorship to guarantee RichCity Idol would run for its fifteenth year.
The evening’s guest performances ended with RichCity Idol winner Marielle Namuco, also dogged by sound problems. Her third microphone finally worked and she sang a moving version of Adele’s “When We Were Young.”
Advisor Natasha Jung, one of RichCity Idol’s founders, thanked the sponsors for making the event happen. They figured out that the evening’s co-hosts had been four when Jung and colleagues began the Richmond-wide contest. Jung then announced this year’s scholarship winners. The first, McRoberts’s Angela Mok, plans to pursue a PhD in Music Education. The second winner, RichCity Idol lead producer Dylan Cobankiat has moved up the ranks in the organization for the last three years. Cobankiat said with a smile, “I cannot sing a song. That’s why I’m not an Idol. I’m a volunteer.”
Then, the tension built as each of the three finalists was announced, first Tong, then Bassi, and her large fan base erupted with Santa Ana’s name was called. The three huddled together, awaiting the news.
Santa Ana was pronounced the winner. Her fans again cheered at an ear-splitting volume of joyous celebration. All 10 finalists came together in a group hug, chanting Santa Ana’s name.
To close the evening, the group of 10 sang Sam Smith’s “One Last Song” with each taking a brief solo turn.
At Santa Ana’s solo, her fans’ ear-shattering cheers and signature cowbell erupted as balloons dropped from above. The students relished the moment, later joining their awaiting fans in the Gateway Theatre.
RichCity Idol 2018 was at a close.