BY JUSTIN FORD
The Shot – a Kitchener-Waterloo talent competition – is back for its second season, riding on the overwhelming success of the first, and I decided to dust off my beat-up guitar and test my chops in the competition held on March 14.
“I’ve always been a huge advocate of emerging talent,” said C.J. Allen, executive producer of The Shot. “We started putting together the program in July of 2014, (and now) some folks are looking to us to provide them with advice about engaging the population.”
So, after deciding to enter the competition, which is open to Kitchener-Waterloo college and university students, I picked out two songs – one cover and one original – to practise in the short time I had to prepare. I had never been in a competition this serious with such gravitational implications. The winner of The Shot receives a professionally recorded music video, a professionally recorded single and a slot on the bill at KOI Fest. It was safe to say I was beyond nervous.
“When you walk into a room as a musician, you know within the first five or six seconds whether they’re going to go somewhere in music,” Allen said. “There’s a fine line between being arrogant and being humble.”
As I was also doing a story for Spoke on the competition, I showed up early to see the staff and volunteers preparing for the competitors to arrive. I hung around chatting while trying to mask my nerves by talking to anyone and everyone. The volunteers were mostly enrolled in the event management graduate program at Conestoga’s Waterloo campus.
“Today I’ll be doing the pre-game interviews,” said Scott Glaysher, MC of The Shot. “Tomorrow I’ll be more involved and there for morale.”
Glaysher went on to say that there was almost a family vibe between the contestants last year, and I could already feel it. I was making friends fast and it was helping to calm my nerves. Then, just when I thought my heart rate was back to normal, they called my name. I was first to see the judges.
I walked into the room literally shaking. I believed in myself, but the seriousness of this competition had my nerves shot. After a brief chat with the judges – Juneyt Yetkiner, Stacey Zegers, Joni NehRita and Allen – I dove right into my original song, Pick a Problem. It didn’t go well and the judges immediately asked me to put the guitar down, shake off my nerves and sing something
a cappella. I chose to sing The Grand Optimist by City and Colour. After about 12 seconds of singing they stopped me. I was terrified of what they were about to say.
The competition functions like American Idol. Each of the four judges gets a vote, and you need a majority to be considered for the next round. Zegers said yes, then Yetkiner said yes, then Nehrita said yes and finally Allen rounded out the voting with a fourth yes. I was honestly in shock as they called me up to get my “golden ticket.”
Another competitor, Katie Owens, a 25-year-old event management student at Conestoga, said, “I’m hoping (to get a callback). It’s been a while since I picked up my guitar.”
When Owens came walking out of the audition room she had a big smile on her face and a golden ticket in her hand. She said she was excited to see what the road ahead had in store.
I was relieved to be advancing to the next round, and so were the other five recipients of callbacks for Sunday, March 15. The second round was to take place the following day at 9:30 a.m. and run until 7 p.m. at The Waterloo Inn.
The Shot isn’t your average talent show. The staff, judges, camera crew, soundboard operators and volunteers all work like a well-oiled machine. You could tell this wasn’t their first rodeo. The contestants starting rolling in around 9 a.m. and the engine was quickly put into gear. We were welcomed by Mary D’Alton, the president and managing director of the Waterloo Inn, who generously donated a vast majority of her hotel’s space to make day two of The Shot possible.
“It’s not only about your talent, but also about your impact on others,” D’Alton said. “All this nervous energy, just enjoy it, and seize the opportunity.”
After Allen gave a brief overview of how the day would go, we were told to pick a group of five to perform with later on in the day. I was extremely nervous about this because I truly am a solo act, but I guess I had to take a huge leap out of my comfort zone. I sought two other people I had met the previous day, and then we recruited two other ringers. Our group consisted of Owens, Johnny Rumig, Ashley Proctor, Matt Giblin and myself.
“If you don’t learn something today, something is wrong with you,” NehRita said.
Each group was assigned a staff member to escort them to their room, help with musical selections and really just be there for anything the group needed. We were escorted downstairs to our practice room, where a sheet of paper was located on a table with 14 songs to select from for one performance at 1:50 p.m. We all agreed upon Stay with Me by Sam Smith, and started seeing what the five of us could do with it.
While each group was in their designated area practising, the judges were periodically visiting each group, making suggestions, providing help and ultimately trying to get the best out of every single individual. This is where The Shot raises the bar. It seemed with each passing hour, this well-oiled machine was accelerating and becoming something so much more than a talent competition.
“The talent is a lot better this time around,” Zegers said. “There’s not many music students, but they still turn out to be surprisingly amazing.”
We had roughly three hours to learn the song, figure out how to make it our own, memorize it and utilize each other’s strengths for a gravely important one-time performance. Three hours later –and about 25 times running through the song – we were pretty pleased with the final product we were about to perform in front of a full crowd and the four judges.
There were cameras almost everywhere you went, recording each step of the process. People were perpetually being pulled aside for interviews as the day went on, but not to the point of distraction. The seriousness of the competition was building, as was my heart rate, then it was our turn to perform. I felt as if this opportunity was the most important shot of my life.
We performed Stay with Me to the best of our potential, with me playing guitar and using no backing track. We all agreed it was the best we had performed the song all day and were pretty impressed with the way it turned out. The other four groups all chose different songs, and the overall talent was undeniably incredible.
“I had my top eight picked out yesterday,” Zegers said. “Now, some other people brought it and shined.”
Contestants were then instructed to go to a waiting room and prepare a song to sing in case the judges wanted one last look at you. All 30 contestants headed down to the waiting room, which quickly turned into one massive jam session. Thirty musically gifted young adults were all playing and singing in harmony. The beauty of this big musical family for the day was nothing short of amazing. The camera crew were quick to grab their cameras and hit record.
After what seemed like an eternity, the MC of The Shot came down and listed 12 singers the judges wanted to see sing again. I was one of them. I sang an NSYNC song with my own little flare in an attempt to catch the judges off guard, then they started to grill me with questions.
The judges then debated for an eternity as to who they felt deserved to be in the top eight. We all knew 22 of us would be going home empty- handed, but extremely rich from the overall experience. Giblin from our group was one of those eight, I was one of the unfortunate 22. (The name of the person who won the competition was not available by Spoke’s press deadline.)
This amazing competition made an incredible impression on me and reignited my passion for music. Beautiful things happen when the right talent is in the room, and that type of talent absolutely littered The Shot.
“Be humble, be determined and work your ass off,” Yetkiner advised the singers.
Hopefully Yetkiner’s words will be engrained in the minds of the eight finalists, and those lucky enough to compete in the third season of The Shot.