By Caitlin Antonios
A heavy mist settled upon the Bren Events Center as students eagerly filled in for Soulstice, UCI’s fifth annual talent competition. The air buzzed with excitement as students settled into their seats. This was the first year Soulstice managed to sell out the Bren, and there was a reason for it.
Daryl Rodriguez got the ball rolling as he performed a solo piece from the musical “Jekyll & Hyde.” While the music was slightly louder than his voice at softer points in the song, Rodriguez hit his big notes perfectly, drawing huge cheers from the crowd and setting a high bar for the rest of the night.
One of the more unique acts of the night, the West African Dance Group (WADG), performed a fusion of West African and East African moves to an energetic and fun medley of African music. Their act stood out as innovative, creative and inspiring, despite not taking home any awards (which turned out to be the least important part of the night).
“We showed a part that a lot of people don’t see from UCI. People say that UCI is diverse, but in reality, UCI isn’t that diverse because they don’t see us,” said Georgette Ilouno, one of the nine dancers. “When you see us perform at Soulstice, you see [that] ‘Ok, there are actually teams like us that actually perform, that actually are all Black, all female.’ We aren’t all African, but some people are from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Panama … it’s just a mixture of everything that Black people make up.”
In between acts, Soulstice League, the group that coordinated the whole show, entertained the audience with videos and skits.
Raunchy, real and hilarious, Soulstice League did run long at times, making the whole show run about three hours for 16 acts. Covering topics ranging from Harry Potter fanfiction to the unknown horrors (and entertainment) held within Zot Zone, the group pushed the limits of what can actually be said at a school event.
It was certainly the year for creative acts as Skydive, who won Best Band, took the stage. Despite technical difficulties, Jenna Mason-Brase and Khue Bui amazed the crowd with their special performance that turned from a sweet, thoughtful song to an energized beat that begged for people to dance.
Taking home the prize for Best A Cappella Group were the Vermillion Vocalists, who also nabbed the Hustle Award for going above and beyond what was asked of them and making the show the best it could be. With amazing stage presence and perfectly-tuned vocal harmonies, they were easily one of the most memorable acts of the evening.
The award for best dance group went to Dance Majors Represent (D.M.R.), who stunned the audience with a beautiful mix of dance genres and music. Starting off with a slow classical ballet, D.M.R. solidified their unforgettable win by changing tempo and adding in hip-hop to one of the most rousing ovations of the night.
While the dance groups and singing groups rocked the house, it was the solo performances that tore it down. First-year Charltanae Ridgell performed an incredible original piece while also providing the piano backtracking herself.
“I was talking to my talent director, Zach, and he said, ‘I really think you should do an original,’ and I’m like ‘Ok, I have things tucked away,’ but I had nothing tucked away. Days went by and I had nothing so I said ‘Alright, what’s my story to tell,’ and this song came out,” she said.
Capturing the award for Best Solo, however, was Emily Tando, who charmed the audience (and clearly, the judges) with a sweet performance that packed a punch. Audience members held up their phones, shining brightly, as Tando performed her cover of Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire,” during which an audience member loudly responded, “Yeah, you are!” — causing Tando to break mid-song for a laugh.
Similarly, Ellen Shieh’s performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” earned her both Overall Winner and People’s Choice.
“Soulstice was a dazzling spectacle, complete with soaring vocals, electric dance moves and zany antics; this captivating talent show definitely proved that UCI’s got talent,” said first-year Chase Robinson after the show had concluded.
Fourth-year Mitchell Salvador encompassed the spirit of Soulstice when he said, “Every year Soulstice never fails to disappoint. It gets better and better each year, and the talent here at UCI is truly amazing. I love seeing students with so much passion and heart. Zot zot; or should I say lick lick!”
Correction: An earlier headline stated Vermilion Vocalists won Soulstice 2016. While they did win the A Capella category, Ellen Shieh was the overall winner.