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USC Scholarship Pageant 2011 - A recap

USC

As promised, here's a note sharing my sentiments on the recently concluded pageant. I apologize for the length beforehand.

I love to give some context for my recaps; so let me mention that I've attended every pageant from its inception, until now. Also, I sat just a few rows back from front of the stage, and to the left. I was kept in company by Sherri Legall, Obed Babb, and Joel James... excellent company, great critique and great comments! I must say, nothing helps you enjoy a USC Pageant like some great company.

Let's review some minor things first. If you've found that I've omitted certain details, it's not that I missed them: I deliberately left them out.

Start time

Once again, a late start. I can only say this: if USC wishes to gain the respect of its students, sponsors and neighbouring schools, it would do well to start its events on time. An event that is carded to start at 6:00pm on a Sunday evening that starts late is totally unacceptable.

Anthem

I wondered if I would mention it in this note... but I must. At least one thing. The anthem, as I know anthems, is supposed to be a song that engenders pride and loyalty to one's country. After the singing of an anthem, one should feel an emotional surge in the direction of zeal for the betterment of his/her country. One would do well to bear this mind when rendering his/her anthem.

Opening Piece: Introduction of contestants

This piece started well. I thought there were some really good ideas on show. I liked the idea of the delegates introducing each other... nice twist. It did fall in the end though... the walking around seemed a bit ad hoc at the very end. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Hosts

Generally good. Russell Leonce's charm is obviously authentic, and was appreciated by the crowd. Great voice as well... it definitely helped in the question segment. Humour was good.

Video/Multimedia

This area will naturally attract my harsher critique. In all honesty, much better could, and should have been done to enhance the show from the multimedia end. I am an avid PowerPoint creator/fan, and what I saw hurt my eyes.

The videos were good... The voice overs... hmm... I think it was a good idea to use someone other than Paul Richards, for the sake of change, but we should definitely keep the standard.

The live video was pretty good... although I admittedly didn't pay it much mind, having such a great seat.

Innovative Hands (Guest performance)

Remarkable. It truly is a breath of fresh air to see something different, and so well crafted. I'll probably say this again later down, but novelty trumps similarity for me any day. Hats off to the creators and performers of this piece... I give you a 9 out of 10.

Organisation

Also coming in for harsh criticism would be the organising committee. I am not ignorant of the dedication, patience and sacrifice needed to stage such a grand event... however, this is not first, second or third pageant of its kind. By now, some of this should be documented, so that mistakes are not repeated. For how many years must audience and artistes endure waiting for a track to start? That wait for Innovative Hands seemed like forever.

However, props do go to the stage managers, who really kept things moving along, given the constraints of a very small backstage area. Your efforts were duly noted. Organisation gets 6 out of 10 on the night.

Crowd response

As always, this is what makes the pageant such an enjoyable experience. The crowd support was there for every delegate, and added significantly to the enjoyment of the pageant as a whole.

Audience dress

A hot topic of course. It wouldn't be fair to make a general statement here. For the most part, and from what I saw, 50% of the persons I saw were appropriately dressed. But remember, I sat up to the front. I did see some disturbing things... but from some of the photos I saw, I'm going to have to make some hard-line comments.

(1) It seems that students are losing respect for the institution, and what it stands for. In fact, even some delegates (past and present) may have lost the plot. All the more reason why I agreed with the final result... but we'll get to that later.

(2) It seems that students are losing respect for themselves. One picture was particularly appalling. Why our young ladies are degrading themselves in this way is a topic of another note.

(3) It seems that students are losing respect for my eyes. Dry humour. Let's move on.

Hi-Tech Equipment

Just a small note for the expensive lighting modules I saw on stage. I'm thinking, if USC went all out to get that kind of equipment, we should have had a half-hour light show! I want more smoke! After all, I paid for it.

Music

Live music! Yes! As a fellow musician, I commend the professional job done by the musicians. They get a 9 out of 10 on the night. I absolutely enjoyed their music. Very fitting in the end during the results! Great job!

* * *

And now... the actual competition. It would be wiser if I made general comments in some cases... I'm sure you'd agree.

Male vs. Female

I must be honest. This was a tale of two competitions. The female competition this year wasn't particularly impressive, or engaging, generally. To be fair, I did see signs of tiredness, stage fright, and unease. It's not easy to face the spotlight if you've never done it before. Good showing though.

But the males were on point. All of them. It was a genuine contest, and there were genuine contestants. You know what, let me make a new section for this...

Male competition

Ah... much better. We had

* Curtis Henry - Guyana

* Lorenzo Kenswil - Suriname

* Mervyn Alexander - St. Lucia

* Jean Claude Cournand - Trinidad and Tobago

These gentlemen should all take a bow. It's the best competition (male or female) that I've seen in all my years of attendance. Stunning displays of talent, and none of them showed signs of unease or stage fright. I'll take them one-by-one.

Curtis - Guyana

Curtis had the most poise on stage. Even during the announcements of the results! Serious gentlemanly qualities. It was very refreshing to see. His monologue was... I've got to get that on tape! Excellent costume... I would give it second place - strong contender for first. On my scoresheet, Curtis' costume would have fetched 94.56, and Jean-Claude's would have fetched 94.57. Final question: Can't remember what he said, but what stuck with me was how he said it. This guy speaks so well. It's a blessing to the ears. Curtis, in my opinion, was the strongest contender on the night.

Lorenzo - Suriname

Mind-blowing performance! The crowd was absolutely electrified by his talent rendition! It will be remembered for years to come. Got to get that on tape too. Real energy and passion. Humour was on point! And that dance after the second verse whipped the crowd into a frenzy! 'No Gate'... his props were on point! He fetches 9 out of 10 from me! And by the way Lorenzo, 10's from me don't come easy .

His cultural wear, in my opinion did fall a bit. But I must 'big-up' his props and the guys and costumes that accompanied him. Particularly the guy on the left. I think his hair added to the whole feel of things.

Mervyn - St. Lucia

Mervyn did quite well. I thought that the sound system may have cheated him of some extra points in the talent section. I did note that he wasn't very confident. Maybe it had to do with coming after two huge performances. Now his costume... hmm... This is what I'll say. It's quite probable that persons from the other islands are a disadvantage when coming to this category, in terms of the resources available to them. Could be. If it is the case (and I think it is), then there should be some stipulations/restrictions in place as to how to construct the costumes. Maybe cost, materials, et cetera. But in any case, some advice should be given in terms of what the judges are looking for.

(Let me state this before I continue. It is true that I am Trinidadian, and that I rooted for Jean-Claude on the night... that is a fact. However, I've made all attempts to be fair and honest in my writing. If this fact may bother you, please hover your mouse over the word 'Facebook', found at the top and left of this page. Click it. You'll find yourself in a place where you'd much rather be.)

Jean-Claude - Trinidad and Tobago

Then there is Jean-Claude. His talent was minus the glitz of earlier performances, which probably set a few people back in terms of their expectations. There he was: himself in no costume; A lead guitarist, and a young girl on the ground, also in no costume. Most people probably were ready for the next act. I sensed it from the talking going on around me.

But then, his poetic skill, with some simple strumming in the background captivated minds... brought persons about face. His lyrics caught your ear, even though your mind was slipping out the door,... he brought you back. I have seldom seen simplicity have such a profound effect. Ok, granted, his lyrics were very deep, and that definitely was the catch. But... his presentation style... so simple! And this is probably what shocked me (and the crowd). I give him a 9 out of 10. Genuine talent, passion, simplicity, depth. Novelty.

His costume was excellent. Novelty, simplicity and depth, once again.

Lastly, the answer to his question. Here's what I heard. An authentic desire to help youth. A real fire from within. It wasn't the length of his answer... it was the depth of it.

EDIT (22-Mar-11)

Female competition

(Ok. As an afterthought, I've decided to put in the female competition section. Balance is good.)

In the female section we had:

* Trea Johnson - Guyana

* Tonya King - Barbados

* Shanya Hillhouse - North Carib

* Kershama Samuel - St. Lucia

* Lynthea Reefe - Dominica

* Desiree Seaton - Trinidad and Tobago

Trea - Guyana

Trea put up a decent showing. Her talent, a monologue, was good. She used the stage pretty well, not afraid to move around… obviously not daunted by the bright lights. I loved her costume, personally… very creative, and wonderful to look at. I think it was a fierce competitor for best female costume on the night.

Tonya  - Barbados

Tonya’s talent was quite good. Well choreographed, and a good storyline. The actors did an excellent job. I did find that she struggled to get her notes out, particularly the higher ones, and I picked up hints of unease throughout her presentation. I believed that Tonya’s dress in the cultural section was beautiful, but I was unable to connect it to culture.

Shanya - North Carib

Great use of the props in her talent rendition (monologue). It was easy to determine that she was not daunted by the bright lights… however, I couldn’t help noticing signs of unease during this piece. However, she delivered with a powerful voice nonetheless. Shanya probably fell in the cultural presentation. Signs of unease were evident here as well.

Kershama - St. Lucia

One of the thoughts coming out of Kershama’s piece was “Man, if I had to do something about Geothermal energy, I would have been at a loss.” She happened to do it with self-belief, confidence, and energy. For this she earned an extra mark from me. Few hints of unease here and there. Good plot.

Mixing culture and geothermal energy is, again, always a challenge. I appreciated the costume, it looked lovely. Very innovative. I confess to not knowing much about geothermal energy, and for the novices in the field like myself, the costume looked like geothermal energy. Whatever that is. She looked a bit constrained for movement initially, but warmed up much more at the end, where she was willing to rotate the costume 360 degrees. So much so that I thought she’d clear out the prop manager at the stage exit. He was spared though. Great fun.

Lynthea - Dominica

Lynthea’s talent was wonderful. She had the most confidence of all the female delegates… I was amazed by that alone. She’d seemed quite at home on the stage. Her song was (again) cheated by imbalances in the sound system… it was difficult to hear her lyrics. But I am an aficionado of live music – that’s always a plus. Backups were great! Great choreography as well.

Lynthea definitely made herself the female crowd favourite on the night after following up her talent with the best female costume on the night. Her costume was beautiful. It was also quite artistic. She deliberately teased the audience by not showing the back of her costume until some time later… and it was worth the wait… it was a water turbine, beautifully done!

Joel James, who sat next to me, suggested that, should the she ‘spin the turbine’, she’d win the competition. Hmm… well, she was the first runner-up... who knows.

Desiree Seaton - Trinidad and Tobago

Desiree really put herself into this competition… that was plain to see. Her talent was dance. Watching her did remind me to beef up my exercise program. I think her performance lacked props. It could be that most of the performances before had props; really good props. I enjoyed the part when the various dancers, representing various cultures, came on. I think that that was some seriously great choreography. Really. Desiree did a dance simultaneously with one of the dancers, while the others stayed still. I think it was in this order: African, European, Chinese, Indian. Then they all held hands, came to the front, and bowed. Good stuff.

Desiree probably fell as well in the cultural presentation. Now personally, I think that the idea for the costume was brilliant. It actually did consist of multi-cultural elements… I thought that the words “Together We Aspire, Together We Achieve” (Trinidad and Tobago’s motto) in Hindi was a magnificent idea! However, I think the judges were looking for a bigger costume; at least following Lynthea’s.

(End of edit)

General competition comments

Ah... kudos to you if you're still reading this article! At least you can consider that it took much longer to write this than you're taking reading it!

Now for some general comments.

Talent

I think it's a worldwide phenomenon... but I could really do with some originality! It's really depressing to listen to another song, or another monologue, or watch another dance routine. I just think "another one". Originality, that comes from within, will always gain you extra points and appreciation. Lynthea Reefe's performance was pretty good. Live music... always a plus.

Costume

Added to my concern about costume above, creativity and originality goes a long as well. It also helps if you smile. I thought that should go without saying, but I said it. Excellent costumes again by Curtis and Jean-Claude. Tessa's was very innovative. Lynthea's costume is definitely worthy of mention - beautiful.

Future delegates however should really consider taking this part of the competition just as seriously as the others.

Questions

This attracted my harshest criticisms on the night. Let me make sure I get this right.

This was a poor showing across the board. Very few people answered the question sensibly, if at all. And I'm short on tolerance for this. You see, this is the part of the competition where onlookers can judge your intelligence. Most of us didn't make it for the research presentations, so this is our only chance.

Not only that. How the delegates answer the questions cast a light on USC itself. What is the calibre of students at USC? If someone wanted to know, he would key into the delegates' spontaneous answers to the questions.

In my opinion, must of the answers seemed rehearsed. I wasn't pleased. I was looking for poise, command of the subject material (since this stuff should have been researched), and calm and direct answers to questions. I was generally disappointed.

Again, to future delegates: take your question seriously, and represent your school, or at least the people who spent money to have you come here!

Final results

I think some serious botching up occurred here. More a problem of organisation than anything else, it would seem. Go forward delegates! Come back delegates. We're ready! No, we're not ready. Mr so-and-so! No, Ms this-and-that. That ad hoc routine was not cool. Also, I figured out quickly that Lorenzo didn't make it when he was called up for his 25% scholarship, but many persons (including Lorenzo obviously) was clueless as to what was happening. Not cool.

And I think the hosts overdid it here on the suspense.

Vote of thanks

I missed it, and so did three-quarter of the auditorium.

* * *

My comments

I finally can make my main point about this competition.

I'll recap the minor ones.

* Better organisation. No excuses. If you need help, get help. I can help, call me.

* Excellent musicianship. Thank you.

* Multimedia - poor job, specifically PowerPoint. Call me.

And now for my main point.

I am pleased with last night results. It went, not how I expected it to go, but how I hoped it would go.

When last I checked, USC was a Christian institution. Thus a pageant that USC is hosting should centre on Christian values. Like:

* Modesty

* Humility

* Genuine Talent

* A passion to do the right thing

* Academic ability

Too many delegates, past and present, have tried to win by pomp, circumstance and makeup. I have seen many past delegates enter this competition, hoping to receive their glorious moment of fame, only to crash out, embarrassed.

On the night, justice was served. Jean-Claude and Tessa represent the highest values of USC (as stated in its handbook), and it came out in their every performance and word. You saw the passion in their faces. You saw the modesty of dress, and humility in deportment.

These two students deserve to represent the institution in the coming year, showing fellow students the true path to greatness... honesty, humility and hard work.

However, I am appreciative of all the male delegates year. Each of them were worthy to be crowned Mr. USC. I would have been satisfied with anyone of them at the top.

So there you have it. By now, you've figured out why I'm not a judge at competitions like these: because no one would come first! Ah... not true. But I do have a keen eye.

Congratulations to all the club support that poured in for each delegate! I know that you all played a key role.

EDIT (22-Mar-11):

One of the delegates pointed out to me that I have been unduly harsh on the female delegates in this review. I was pointed to the sacrifice that each delegate made for the past three months; of time, of sleep, of academia. With this I concur. I confess to myopically throwing a blanket on the efforts of the female delegates (even though inadvertently).

Admittedly, I've compared it with strong showings in previous pageants.

I say then, "Hats off to all the female delegates of 2011", and well deserved. I know of delegates (of previous years) who started the race, but did not make it to the final night. Thank you ladies for your endurance, and perseverance.

And a special mention to Shanya Hillhouse, who broached the issue with me in a very Christian-like manner, which not only surprised me, but got me busy making this edit.

(End of edit)

EDIT (27-Mar-11):

As promised, here's my recap of Lorenzo's winning talent rendition. Context is important, so I'll mention that the perspective I'm taking is from that of musician and of competition judge, as I have experience wearing both hats. I will take the performance in sections.

Intro

The intro was captivating, and well put together. All the actors were busy doing something; some off stage, some on stage. Even while Lorenzo was off stage, the actors were creating the scene. The two guys who donned T&TEC uniforms, coupled with an 'actual' T&TEC announcement being played while they were busy erected their ladder near the stage... quite comical! They added significantly to the mood and expectancy of the crowd. It turned out that these guys were actually the backup singers for the song. Their role in the plot was critical; and, in my opinion, sheer genius.

Performance - First Verse

I did have some problems here. I noted there were some problems with hitting the notes properly. It was obvious (to me), especially against the music -- the musicians nailed this song for the most part! Again, the sound system prevented me from hearing the words clearly.

Performance - Second Verse

Lorenzo's lyrics turned to situations as they exist at USC.. A brilliant move. From the very first line of this verse, the crowd was whipped into a hype, which never subsided (maybe even up 'til now!). Linda Austin, USC's Cafeteria, and Cedar Austin hall were put on show... and by rounding off this verse with the chant 'We sufferin', it was by now just a case of ending well.

But the crowd was belted with even more from Lorenzo... his dance moves at the end of this verse made the crowd erupt in shouts, laughs and screams. For that moment in time, the noise of the crowd overpowered a healthy sound system.

Performance - Third Verse

This verse sealed the deal. In this verse, he took on the Registration system... skilfully using the electricity issue to highlight some non-electricity-related issues with the Registration process. Brilliance. I think he won the majority of the USC past/present students with this parody. And that may have been about 96% of the persons in attendance.

But what nailed this was the break-off at the end of the verse. The musicians all stopped as if someone pulled the plug, accompanied by a solo trumpet's glissando downwards. If your heart was already beating at pace, the suddenness of this would have made your eyes bulge. "What happened to GATE??" The crowd was in pandemonium. Lorenzo, turned around, and walked off the stage.

I don't think people even knew which emotion to feel.

He then runs on after about 5 seconds (seemed like 10) and he, with everyone on the stage, AND the musicians(!) jump up simultaneously and blaze right back into the song! What - a - moment.

Performance - End

It was in the bag. He asked the crowd to sing with him his (now famous) 'sufferin' chant. I think they would have said 'cucumber' if he asked. The entire auditorium joined in unison: "Sufferin'!" I didn't see if the judges joined in. After he ended, to tumultuous applause, he turned around, and calmly walked off the stage.

* Other Comments *

Actors

Kudos to all the actors in this presentation. They stood still when they were supposed to, and acted the part when their turns came.

The guy who held up the GATE sign deserves a Grammy. They all deserve an award, but he gets my pick.

Props

Excellent use of props. It turns out that the ladder that the T&TEC guys had earlier put near the stage was the same ladder that Lorenzo ascended to lead the crowd into the chant. This indicates a high level of planning. Of curling irons, book bags, and T&TEC helmets and uniforms... well done.

Music

The composer and musicians should be commended highly. There was live brass, alongside some very skilled musicians. The composer comes in for kudos as well. I believe that this was an original composition, and I saw great creativity in the phrasing of the brass lines; a catchy beat (can't get it out of my head); and creative musical ideas.

Stage Presence

Lorenzo seemed quite comfortable/confident during the entire performance. Confidence is very important, and a lack of it often puts questions in the heads of the judges and the crowd.

Final Words

I did ponder the score that I gave him in my original post. Having gone through it again, I think that 9 out of 10 is still what I think this performance deserved. I'll take off 1.4 points for problems with making the notes, and then I rounded it up.

This is one of the finest talent renditions I have seen in all my years of attendance at the pageant. Memorable. Exciting. Enjoyable. A masterpiece.

It deserved to be adjudged the winning talent of the USC Scholarship Pageant 2011.

(End of edit)

And... that's it.

Next year then?

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