UCSC's Talent Show debuts, showcases students' artistic flair

Campus-wide competition included singing, dancing, musical performances, and yo-yo theatrics

Benjamin Du, Andrew Kang, and Che-An Wu
Benjamin Du, Andrew Kang, and Che-An Wu, warm up before the competition. Their act, "UCSC Popping: Funk the System," was one of the top-three acts. (Photo by Peggy Townsend)
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They made a Britney Spears song sound hip. They sent machetes flying, flung yo-yos, and danced fingers over the keys of a grand piano.

On a brightly lit stage Friday night in the Stevenson Event Center, 20 of UC Santa Cruz's most creative student performers came together for the premiere of UCSC's Talent Show, a campus-wide competition that showcased the university's artistic flair.

Said Chancellor George Blumenthal during a break: "UCSC really does have talent."

The nearly three-hour competition was won by a pair of 21-year-old singer/songwriters: Sean Campbell (College Eight '14, environmental sciences) and Casey Dayan (College Eight '14, anthropology/literature), who blew away the standing-room-only crowd with their sweet harmonies and a beautifully crafted song titled "Mother," which they'd written that week.

"We're stoked," said Dayan after learning their duo, called "Moo," had won the $2,000 Alumni Association scholarship prize (see video at right). "Everyone here did just a freaking amazing job."

Organized by students Samantha Vega, Shaz Umer, and Rashad Kayed, along with Associate Vice Chancellor/Enrollment Management Michelle Whittingham and a host of volunteers, the talent show was "a way to define us as a campus," said Umer. Whittingham hopes the competition will become an annual event tied to Alumni Weekend festivities

Modeled after the reality TV show "America's Got Talent," the event drew 90 contestants over five preliminary heats, whittling the talent pool down to the top 10 acts, who took the stage Friday night.

Luke Romero (Oakes '14, network and digital technology) opened the show with a mind-boggling display of choreographed yo-yo maneuvers that drew hoots and cheers from the audience. Flipping, spinning, and forming almost-architectural structures, Romero's yo-yo was like living art.

"I like seeing the flow of movement from any kind of art: dance, parkour, yo-yo," said Romero, who has been perfecting his skills for nine years.

What followed was an all-you-can-eat buffet of talents. Twenty-year-old music major Emily Walters performed a self-choreographed Irish dance. Crown economics and math major Daniel Steinberg and College Ten psychology major Alex Clark — who had met only five days before — set the crowd on fire with a bluesy R&B rendition of Britney Spears' "Oops I Did it Again."

And in an act guaranteed to stop the heart of any insurance adjuster, 20-year-old Cowell College student and human biology major Michael Balce rode a towering unicycle through the crowd while juggling machetes as his street-performing crew — Jack Milner, Alec Vigil, and Daniel Martins, all 19 and all from Cowell College —played rock behind him.

For 20-year-old Andrew Kang (College Nine '15, technology information management) the talent show was the first chance for him and his two dance partners to perform their homage to the funk dance styles of locking and popping in front of an audience.

Pausing the group's warm-up minutes before the show, he said he met 19-year-old Benjamin Du (College Eight '15, robotics engineering) and 24-year-old computer science transfer student Che-An Wu, who came to UCSC from Taiwan, only a few months before. They discovered a shared passion for dance and became friends.

"Dance is a universal language," Kang said.

 Their act, titled "UCSC Popping: Funk the System," brought down the house and earned them a final-three spot, along with pianist Ashley Tran, a 19-year-old music major from Porter College who has been playing since the age of 5.

Judges Whittingham, Umer, Dean of Students Alma Sifuentes, and UCSC Chief of Police Nader Oweis used words like "unexpected," "amazing," and "emotion-filled" to describe the acts. And despite a technological snafu with voting that resulted in an old-fashioned head count, the show was a success.

Said an unidentified student during the performances: "All this is making me so happy, I just want to smile all the time."