Posted on September 30, 2012 at 11:09 pm

UPDATE: The voting period is now over! Finalists will be announced soon!

In June, I announced a new competition, The JRB 2012 Summer Karaoke Competition, whereby singers were invited to sing along with the accompaniments I had recorded for Jason Robert Brown Plays Jason Robert Brown, a collection released this year by Hal Leonard.

Over 700 people submitted recordings, and today I am proud to announce the semi-finalists. Up to now, all the decisions have been mine alone – I’ve listened to every one of the entries and chosen these seventy incredible singers – but as of this post, things open up in two different directions, which I’ll explain shortly.

It’s been an unbelievable experience listening to 700 people bringing my songs to life, each in their own way. I’ve been so moved hearing how much this music means to you. I can’t explain it; I just have to thank you for taking the time to be part of this. I also have to say how hard it was to choose the semi-finalists – in order to narrow this down to seventy people, I had to cut six hundred and thirty really excellent performers. When I first came to New York in 1990, it was almost impossible to find people who could really sing my material; now I have a SoundCloud account with 700 singers kicking ass on my songs. It’s very powerful for me.

Also, it’s been beautiful seeing the community form around this competition – watching the singers comment on each other’s tracks and share them and tweet about them and generally support each other with so much mutual respect and affection. Thank you all for letting me be a part of that.

So with that in mind, a note both to those who were chosen and those who were not: Let’s just acknowledge right from the outset, before you start commenting and tweeting, that nothing is fair. Even the most scrupulously monitored situation has innumerable invisible biases built in, and something as deeply subjective as a singing competition is simply impossibly fraught with questions of equatability and taste. I know that some of the entries that I didn’t select were probably better than some of the ones I chose – I did the best I could. But here are three ways we can all acknowledge from the outset that this shit is just not fair:

1) These guys had professional recording equipment and all I had was a wax cylinder and a bullhorn!
It’s true, some of the semi-finalists seem to have recorded in first-class environments, and it’s unquestionable that that confers a considerable advantage. (I even detected AutoTune on a number of tracks, in addition to other less morally complicated manipulations.) But a goodly number of these folks also recorded with much more primitive equipment. I’d like to think that I can hear the talent no matter how technically specious the recording is, but I’m probably wrong. Totally not fair, I agree.

2) The people who entered earlier got more attention than the later people!
Totally true. At the beginning of the competition, I was only getting three or four entries a day, and I could really concentrate on each one individually; by the end, there were sometimes seventy to a hundred entries coming in per day, and in addition to the sheer overwhelming exhaustion of trying to focus on all of that, I started to get burned out on some of the songs. I never expected so many people to enter. Advice for next time, if there is a next time: Get your track in early.

3. All these people are friends of JRB!
Musical theatre is a small field, and I’ve been plowing it for a long time now. So yes: three of the semifinalists have babysat my children! Also in this group, there are friends, students, colleagues, daughters and sons and nieces and cousins of people I’ve worked with over the years, not to mention some people who are pretty famous! On the other hand, there are also people, the vast majority of the semifinalists, who I’ve never met or heard of; but I may have unconsciously cut some slack to the folks I know. It happens. I think the next step of the judging will diminish the effects of that bias.

Here’s the real truth: I couldn’t possibly pick the “best” out of this group. There are so many simply unbelievable performers here, with incredible technical control, amazing tonal variety, and devastating and wonderful emotional clarity. And there are singers with so much personality, so much life and energy and joy, that they make this whole competition worth it for me. I chose these seventy singers after three months of listening, and now I’m putting it into everyone else’s hands.

Two things happen at this point. The first is that these seventy tracks are now being sent to the other judges. I’ve asked four professionals in the musical theatre – a composer, a director, a musical director and a casting director – to rate the semi-finalists and then confer with me in November to choose the finalists. I don’t know how many finalists there will be. I don’t even know how many winners there will be – it seems inconceivable at this moment that only one of these thrilling talents would be judged the “winner.” But we’ll see. At any rate, by mid-November, I’ll publish a list of finalists on this blog and explain the next exciting step.

The other thing that happens now is that YOU get to listen. Send me your top 5 semi-finalists, listed in descending order (#1 being your favorite) in an email to jason@jasonrobertbrown.com, with the title of the email being “SEMIFINAL LIST/[YOUR NAME]“. (Obviously you should put your name – your real name – where I put [YOUR NAME].) I’ll tabulate all of those lists, post the totals, and those totals will be applied after the judges have chosen the finalists – in other words, you can help push your favorite into the finals. (Note: don’t send multiple lists, and don’t send any lists with more or less than five entries. I’m hoping this will limit ballot-box-stuffing to some degree, but I know I can’t control that too much.)

All right, enough talking. Here are the seventy semi-finalists for the JRB 2012 Summer Karaoke Competition, in alphabetical order. I kid you not: they’re all superb. Congratulations to all of you, and so many thanks to everyone who entered!

Elliot Aguilar (NY)

Delaney Amatrudo (TN)

Philippe Arroyo (PA)

Morgan Assante (NJ)

Samantha Barboza (KS)

Matt Bauer (KS)

Mallory Bechtel (TX)

Shelly Bort (CA)

Casey Breves (CA)

Melissa Brobeck (OH)

Bree Carroll (IL)

Kennedy Caughell (NY)

J. Andrew Chauncey (TN)

Dani Collins (CA)

Candice Corbin (NY)

Susanna Cork (UK)

Haydn Cox (UK)

Jacob Cummings (AL)

Therese Curatolo (NY)

Joey DeBenedetto (NY)

Julian Decker (PA)

Lynda DeFuria (NY)

Caro Michelle Fernandez (FL)

Jordan Fisher (CA)

Savannah Frazier (NY)

Ellis Gage (NY)

Hayley Graham (TN)

Alyssa Grant (CA)

Kat Hennessey (NY)

Paul Ianniello (NY)

Miguel Jackson (AZ)

Rachel Heather Karmel (NY)

Morgan Karr (CA)

Mykal Kilgore (NY)

Hector Flores Komatsu (MEXICO) {*see note below}

Blaine Krauss (FL)

Liz Lieber (NY)

Ashley Fox Linton (CA)

Maria Logan (PA)

Gabriel Lopez (NY)

Meredith Lustig (CO)

Kelsey Macke (TX)

Claire Manship (NC)

Erin Martinez (AR)

Jesse Nager (The Broadway Boys) (NY)

Andrea Nevil (NY)

Kristen Olson (NJ)

Alexander Sage Oyen (NY)

Zachary Piser (CA)

Laura Poyner (UK)

Coty Ross (TX)

Jonas Saari (FINLAND)

Monet Julia Sabel (NY)

Brian Scharfenberg (OH)

Peter Schmid (GERMANY)

Clara Scott (ONTARIO)

Meghan Shanahan (IL)

Lynn Shore (CA)

Josh Daniel Smith (LA)

Carrie St. Louis (CA)

Kate Steinberg (IL)

Brett Stoelker (NY)

Josh Tolle (OH)

Angela Travino (NY)

Alex Unger (ONTARIO)

Jaron Vesely (NY)

Gabriel Violett (NY)

Laura Williams (IL)

Penelope Yates (CA)

Yaniv Zarif (NY)

{*NOTE: Hector submitted his song in two languages. I was knocked out by the version in Spanish – which starts halfway through this link – and that’s the version that’s advancing to the semifinals.}

I also want to give a special Honorable Mention to several people who got really close. They’re all fabulous singers as well, and you should listen to their tracks if you get the chance!

Dean Bayliss (UK)
Margaret Dietrich (NY)
Katrina Fisher (NH)
Peter Perry Lam (NY)
Eliza Palasz (WA)
Tim Ross (OH)
Gareth Wynne (UK)

and a very special shout-out to the amazing Kate Shindle, who made it clear that she’s been in enough competitions in her life but wanted to get in on the fun by submitting an absolutely kick-ass version of “Still Hurting.”

Thanks so much to everyone for entering! On to the finals!

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