Campus SuperStar finalists hold up their assigned color so the audience can vote for the winner.
Talent was in no short supply as the 10 finalists from Pittsburgh’s Campus Superstar 2007 took to the stage on March 29 to compete for a $5,000 scholarship. Waving banners and rooting on their favorite contestant, at times the cheering audience seemed likely to drown out the performances, modeled after the popular FOX television show, “American Idol.” The event benefited the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh, as students from four Pittsburgh universities, along with supportive community members, nearly filled the landmark Carnegie Music Hall.
Popular “American Idol” finalist, Elliott Yamin, performed a song from his new CD before serving as host for the evening. Charmingly nervous, Yamin confessed to the amused audience that he’d “never even hosted a party before.”
The night was a culmination of two open auditions, held in February, when the finalists were selected from over 100 contestants. Four local notables served as judges of the final competition where they dispensed both constructive criticism and praise. “Everybody was so good, I was inventing superlatives,” exclaimed Richard Raugh, one of the judges and a former drama reviewer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Ultimately, the audience chose the winner, Carnegie Mellon University freshman Nick Cosgrove, for his rendition of Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be.” After his win, a beaming Cosgrove declared the evening, “An unreal experience!”
In addition, two runners-up won $1,000 scholarships each. Also performing that night were the Jewish a cappella group, “The Vokols,” and the a cappella group from Carnegie Mellon University, “The Originals.” But the night belonged to the 10 finalists as they brought the house down with a collective performance showcasing their camaraderie and talent.
At the event after-party back at the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center, Yamin signed autographs and easily chatted with students and the contestants. “It was great to connect with people from ‘the Tribe’ and I thought it was a good cause for the scholarships,” he said. “And I love Pittsburgh!”
Planning for the Pittsburgh’s Campus Superstar 2007 began months earlier, in the fall semester, when the Hillel staff presented, an initially skeptical, student board with the idea of staging a multi-campus talent search-fundraiser.
“At first there was a little reservation,” explained sophomore Justin Jacobs and Pittsburgh Hillel student board president. “We couldn’t visualize it -- until we saw the video from Campus SuperStar Georgia, and then we were like, ‘Wow! This is what we’re doing!’”
“It really blows my mind the extent to which we pushed this on the campuses,” said Jacobs. “It was the biggest thing we’ve ever undertaken.”
A team of six student interns oversaw the event details, from serving as a liaison to the contestants, to creating the program material, managing the event facility and promoting the event. “We surpassed all the other Hillels [in first-year attendance],” said lead intern Pam Eichenbaum, a University of Pittsburgh junior. “Facebook was key!”
“And I think this event really helped us [Hillel] bridge the gap with other groups on campus mostly because the competition was open to any full-time student,” she added.
Campus SuperStar raised $270,000 for the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh and was covered by several local media outlets including the local NBC affiliate.
"We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jacob Schreiber from the Shusterman International Center for having the vision to create the Campus SuperStar program as well as for the patience to guide us through this challenging, but very rewarding process," said Aaron Weil, executive director of the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh.
Schreiber, who created Campus SuperStar Georgia in 2004, gave Pittsburgh Hillel their due. “They took a concept and they owned it; it didn't look like Georgia's event,” he said. “Pitt is a model for any Hillel that has the guts to jump in and pull this off.”
“Campus Superstar is quite simply the largest event this Hillel has ever held and beyond the [money] it raised, it created for Hillel undeniably PR value -- as one of the coolest organizations on campus," said Weil.