This year’s SoJam competition was dominated by three University of Central Florida a cappella groups, who nearly swept all of the awards and all three top placings.
Competing this year were six college a cappella groups: The Carnegie Mellon “Originals,” Grand Valley State’s “Euphoria,” University of Wisconsin-Parkside’s “Parkside Range,” University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Gemini Boulevard, UCF Mixed Mode, and UCF Voicebox.
The SoJam competition took place in three rounds, with all six groups competing in the first two rounds and the top two groups battling it out in the final round. In keeping with the CASA festival tradition, each round had a theme and the competitors were required to design their sets around their interpretation of the theme.
Round 1: Show us the perception of the world around you from the eyes of your group.
The Carnegie Mellon Originals kicked things off with a stunning dramatic interpretation of Lorde’s “Sober.” The lead, the only one not wearing a mask, was trying to escape from the group, all who were trying to stifle his originality. Euphoria, who placed second at the Boston Sings competition in 2018, followed with a fun, rousing edition of Paramore’s "Ain’t It Fun." The judges must have thought so, too, because in the end this song won them the award for “Best Interpretation of the Theme.”
In one of their first performances, the new ensemble Parkside Range demonstrated their impeccable blend and balance; the performance was even more impressive considering they were only seven singers, one-on-a-part. This was followed by Gemini Boulevard’s strong performance of “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which propelled them to the top of the scoreboard.
As the UCF groups continued to perform one after the other (Mixed Mode and then Voicebox) it was clear that the first three groups, who all gave valiant efforts, were starting to get overshadowed. Mixed Mode barreled onto the stage in '90s hip-hop clothing and gave us a fun upbeat rendition of “Give Me A Little.” This was quickly followed by Voicebox, who repeated their stunning light show and beautiful song “Hymn of Acxiom,” the very set that helped them win the Boston Sings competition in 2018.
Round 2: Show us how other people perceive who you are.
With the three UCF groups firmly battling for the lead, the six groups prepared their sets for Round 2. The Originals performed their strongest number so far, “Death of a Bachelor,” which won soloist Rob Lewis best solo of the night. Euphoria began their song right where the first one ended, now transitioning into “Fall in Line” by Christina Aguilera. This song was their strongest performance so far as well, as the two solos played off each other well as they demonstrated their theme of independence from society.
Parkside Range took the stage again singing One Republic’s “I Lived.” Despite their hesitations to loosen up and embrace the nature of the choreography, they sang extremely well showcasing their clearly well-rehearsed abilities. This was followed by a much stronger “pop and lock” routine from Gemini Boulevard, which was clearly a metaphor for the way society acts like autonomous robots. This was reinforced by their choice of song “Gasoline” by Halsey.
Mixed Mode took the stage for the second time singing “Lost Man” by Elliot Root. Dressed in all black, Mixed Mode showed off their experience by displaying some typical ICCA choreography and including homages to Voices in Your Head in their arrangement. To close out the round, Voicebox performed my favorite routine thus far, a dramatic interpretation of Macbeth set to “Control” by Halsey.
Round 3: Showcase the lens that alters the way things are perceived.
Two groups from UCF — Gemini Boulevard and Voicebox — proceeded to the final round. In appreciation of this decision, the crowd began chanting “UCF! UCF!” In a battle for the top spot, Gemini Boulevard closed their set with the ballad “Thinking of You.” As they emerged on the stage wearing bright, sequenced outfits, it was unclear what the final motivation for the performance was, though the singing was undoubtedly very strong.
For their final song, Voicebox attempted to think outside the voicebox (see what I did there?) and sang an epic finale utilizing “Passage” by Vienna Tang. Their spoken introduction explained that the song was about loss and mortality and warned the audience that the lyrics may cause some to remember tragic events in their lives. The song, almost entirely sung monophonically by the soloist, was a fantastic dramatic display, but as an a cappella arrangement, was lacking in change and substance. At this point, it was anyone’s game.
After stellar performances from the host group The Duke Pitchforks (who opened the show) and Ember (who sang during deliberation) it was time to announce the winners. While Voicebox took the top spot, it was clear the real winner of the night was the University of Central Florida.
Outstanding Visual: Gemini Boulevard
Soloist: Rob Lewis “Death of a Bachelor”
Soloist: Lily Shultz
Best Sopranos: Gemini Boulevard
Best Execution of the Theme: Euphoria “Ain’t It Fun”
Third Place: Mixed Mode
Second Place: Gemini Boulevard
First Place: Voicebox