ASUCI’s 10th annual Soulstice event celebrated its first ever virtual show due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 4; however, this didn’t stop this year’s creative minds from bringing their all to the production. Winners of each respective category were announced earlier this March, with both old and new faces present.
One recognizable face, as this wasn’t her first time competing, was UCI third year anthropology and sociology student Destinee Alera. Alera, 19, won the Best in Solo/Duet category with her original song “Runnin Back,” which was accompanied by her self-directed music video. Within this video, she was able to express her creativity and passion for music through the video’s personal and fun editing. This performance was just one of the many feats to add to the list of accomplishments of Alera’s musical career.
Originally from Oakland, Calif., Alera began her singing career at just two years old thanks to her musical family. Because her father is a music producer, she was able to experience this passion for music beginning at a very young age. After sitting in during her dad’s music studio sessions and seeing what he did for his career, Alera knew that this is what she wanted to do as well. At the age of seven, she was given a keyboard, which jump-started her passion. Then from second grade up until high school, she was enrolled in a performing arts charter high school. From her youth and school experiences, Alera became completely immersed in the music industry.
“My parents always tell me that before I could even talk, we would go to restaurants and I would just get up and dance and sing throughout the aisles,” Alera said.
Though she started as a vocal major at UCI, Alera decided that the department was a bit more restrictive than what she had hoped it would be. From the influence of the anthropology classes that she was taking, she decided to switch majors and join the social sciences department. This way, she was able to still get musical experience from hands-on activities, such as from acapella group UCI’s Vermillion Vocalists and her choir. This year, Alera entered Soulstice with the Vermillion Vocalists in addition to the acapella category. Although they didn’t win, she was still happy to perform with her group again.
One aspect of Soulstice is the feature of celebrity guest judges. This year’s committee gathered actors Jason Earles, Kelley Jakle, Cody Linley and Kendall Schmidt. These judges virtually met with the Soulstice participants in separate groups on Zoom, where they gave advice and inspiring words to these aspiring artists, dancers and actors. Alera met with “Pitch Perfect” star Jakle and “Hannah Montana” actor Earles. Something that she took from Earles was the importance of putting in your 10,000 hours, which is exactly what Alera plans to do when she continues working on her music career.
Alera was looking forward to having this time with these judges and hearing from them because of their importance to her childhood. As an acapella singer herself, she was particularly interested in hearing from Jakle since “Pitch Perfect” is one of Alera’s favorite movies. During freshman year, Alera’s own experience in joining Vermillion Vocalists resembled the scene in “Pitch Perfect” in which the lead character joins an acapella group at a club fair. At Alera’s involvement fair, she didn’t even know that there was an acapella group at UCI. However, once the opportunity came, she was absolutely thrilled to audition. After joining the group, Alera felt she had joined a family; she is excited to see the group in person again soon.
“My favorite part was probably getting to see the judges and hang out with them because that’s one of the things that makes Soulstice so enjoyable,” Alera said.
When applying to Soulstice, Alera had another song written called “New Beginning,” which has an inspirational tone in the midst of the global pandemic. She found the song was an opportunity to do something different than what she has done in the past since it was written in a tone she had never used before.
The inspiration behind her Soulstice-winning song “Runnin’ Back” came from a beat that she and her friends came up with a while ago; Alera revisited the beat when coming up with a new song and knew she had to use it. With a beat reminiscent of video game sounds, she collaborated with her friends to come up with something worth submitting.
Once the song was finished, the next “boulder” she had to jump over was to complete the music video. With a time constraint on her plate, Alera had to act fast in order to get in the best finished product on time. To do this, she stuck to the basics with Video Star, an editing app on her phone.
“Basically, it’s pretty nerdy. When I was little, I could add songs and make little music videos, and I used to do it all the time. My friends and I would have a whole bunch, and so I still had the app on my phone. So I said hmm, I’m gonna try to make a little homemade video. I literally did it an hour before it was due. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that fast,” Alera said.
Within the video, Alera made personal and childhood references to showcase uniqueness rather than simply focusing on an aesthetic aspect. One reference made in the video was a feature of Justin Timberlake, a childhood icon and crush of Alera. Despite his recent controversies, Alera has appreciated his music ever since she can remember; she knew that she had to make a small tribute to him because of how much inspiration he has given her over the years.
Since Alera had already performed in Soulstice during her freshman year, she had some idea of what to expect for this year’s show. However, because the setting was different and she wouldn’t be performing live this time around, her nerves set in. Since Alera has become accustomed to performing in front of an audience, she knows how to be engaged with the audience and radiates that same energy that they give to her. During virtual Soulstice, she knew that she would have to create something notable to be put on the internet forever for people to watch back. Because of the hard work that she put into the song and video, Alera is proud of the product that she has created. That same hard work that was put into Soulstice will be continued in the future, as Alera plans to make new music any time she’s inspired.
“I write all the time. I get inspired by a phrase I hear, or like a melody pops into my head, or a beat. Some of [my future songs] are love songs having to do with me, or stuff that I’ve wrote from the perspective of other people … I’ve had times where I’ve been sleeping and I wake up with something in my head and then I record it really quickly,” Alera said.
In terms of genre, Alera’s future songs will have some pop, some ballad and some of anything else that comes naturally to her. Some days, she sits down with her keyboard and focuses on what chords sound good together. Other days, she will think of a lyric or phrase randomly and then just jot it down for future reference. Alera draws inspiration from modern artists — Ariana Grande, Alicia Keys, Michael Jackson and H.E.R. — and some old school ‘60s and ‘70s R&B artists — Aretha Franklin and The Temptations — in developing her own sound and music.
“I think that’s why I love music so much. There’s no exact science or formula,” Alera said.
Although Alera is still on the UCI campus as a student worker, she’s anticipating the little things that made her college experience what it was before the pandemic. From the simplicity of running into friends down Ring Road to pulling up her desk and turning sideways to let people through the aisles of a lecture hall, Alera is excited to gain back that normalcy in the fall 2021 quarter and to continue making music with her friends.
Chloe Geschwind is an Entertainment Intern for the winter 2021 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.