Div School Students to name ‘Idol’

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Photo by Divinity School Open Party.

Divinity School students jammed to “Party Rock Anthem” and other popular tunes Friday night as they revived “Divinity School Idol” for the first time in recent years.

Modeled on television singing contest “American Idol,” the competition thrust four contestants — who had been nominated by their peers — into the spotlight of the Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel to perform songs, dances, skits and instrumental pieces. The event was part of a greater effort to revive the Open Party, a student group at the Divinity School that brings together students of a variety of faiths to discuss their roles in the school and that has coordinated the event previously. Students interviewed said they were happy to see the tradition return.

“The performers were so wonderful and I thought they were so incredibly brave and willing and good sports and great fun to agree to do this,” said Julie Kelsey DIV ’84, assistant dean of students for pastoral concerns and one of three judges for the competition. “I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.”

Though the competition focused on the contestants’ performances, the four students ­— Leonard Curry DIV ’13, Jared Gilbert DIV ’12, Nicholas Lewis DIV ’13 and Kate Stratton DIV ’12 — were evaluated on several criteria. In addition to their creative numbers, each contestant was asked to collect different types of donations, such as toiletries or school supplies, as part of a drive for New Haven charity Youth Continuum, and each answered Divinity School trivia questions posed by Dale Peterson, associate dean of student affairs.

The winner will be determined based on donations gathered, judge evaluations, correct answers in the quiz and audience votes. Three Divinity School faculty and staff who served as judges will announce the competition’s winner at the school’s 11 a.m. coffee hour today.

The goal was to evaluate contestants’ abilities in three areas — “mind, body and soul,” said Open Party coordinator Esther Boyd DIV ’14. The competition’s format was different this year, Boyd said, since the “American Idol” contest is no longer as popular or relevant as it was when the Open Party began holding the event. Boyd added that Divinity School Idol is the main event hosted by the affinity group, which aims to attract “atheist, agnostic, nontraditional, multi-religious and nonreligious Divinity School students.”

“In the beginning, the group was looking to do something for the whole Divinity School, as a kind of gift to the school,” Peterson said. “At the time, there wasn’t really a talent show as such at the Divinity School.”

Peterson said he has enjoyed having the Open Party coordinate the event in past years and was glad to see it return this weekend. Though students are unsure as to when the contest was last held, the most recent year listed on the Divinity School Idol trophy, which passes on to each successive winner, is 2007.

After all four contestants answered quiz questions from Peterson, Gilbert took the stage first to perform. Dressed in drag, he sang and acted out a brief musical skit about a fictional prospective Divinity School student, “Summer Clarence.” His skit was riddled with inside jokes, such as a parody of Assistant Director of Admissions Sean McAvoy DIV ’11, and drew laughter from the approximately 45 attendees. Chloe Starr, a professor at the Divinity School and in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, said she appreciated the skit’s “theatricality.”

While Gilbert described himself as “not necessarily a great singer,” he said he enjoyed writing the parody of Divinity School life, which he set to Disney music.

“And I’m always looking for an excuse to do some drag,” he added.

Lewis, who followed Gilbert, performing a clarinet solo that required the audience to clap, stomp and exclaim to the beat. Stratton came next, singing and dancing in a musical skit. Finally, Curry capped off the night by singing part of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” and then dancing to “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO.

All four contestants said they thought the competition was worthwhile because of the donation drive for Youth Continuum, which addresses homelessness among youth.

Stratton said she appreciated that all the contestants incorporated “absurd” elements into their performances.

“I didn’t want to get up and take it too seriously, and be like, ‘Oh, look at how well I sing,’ or ‘Oh, look at how great of an actor I am,’” Stratton said. “All three of [the other contestants] are incredibly talented and have legitimate skills they could have displayed.”

“American Idol” first premiered in 2002.

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