'Academy Idol' Recap: Season 5 - Episodes 1 & 2


Photo by Bob Toy.

Episode 1: September 30, 2015

Following a brief introduction from this season’s three hosts, Aundria Jolivette, Lorena King and Frank Diaz, season five of Academy Idol was underway. This year’s panel of judges, Keanna Moody, Alexis Moore, Elizabeth Sweeny, Matthew Cesca and Kiyomi Mitsuda, were on the edge of their seats waiting to see what kind of fresh talent they were about to encounter. In no time, the first contestant, Zachary Santos, was with Aundria Jolivette in the pre-performance interview anxiously awaiting his time in the spotlight.


Santos was born in Oakland, Calif. but was raised in Pittsburg. Music has always been involved in Santos’ life, as he finds it a way to connect with his emotions as well as other people.

The song he chose, “Love at First Sight” by Josh Verdes, was dedicated to his aunt that was in the hospital. Unfortunately, the performance was not up to par with the judges’ standards. They commented saying he was flat, lacked confidence and didn’t own the room. Santos’ acoustic guitar playing is what saved the performance, but the judges seemed hopeful that he will be back next week. They advised him to connect with the audience and add energy to his performance to keep people’s attention.


Zachary Santos. Photo by Bob Toy.


Janel McDowell. Photo by Bob Toy.


Janel McDowell followed with a stellar performance of Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady” that wowed the judges. McDowell is from Sacramento and started singing at the age of nine. She joined the school choir in fifth grade. She is confident; describing herself as cool, calm and collected but still having fire. As an acting major, she has always felt at home on the stage. She set herself up for a promising set. McDowell kept her word and astonished the judges with her passion and natural stage presence.

The judges had nothing but good words to say; she owned the room, worked the camera and connected with the audience. Her look matched her personality and song choice, one judge even went on to say that she was a definition of an idol.


Texas native Lauren Tacderas was waiting in the wings as McDowell finished her set. Tacderas is 18 years old and is majoring in illustration. She loves pop ballads that she can deeply connect to, in turn giving that experience to the audience.

When the opening of “Halo” by Beyoncé filled the room, there was a skeptical but impressed look on each of the judges’ faces. Tacderas showed passion and commanded the room. Her vocals were challenged by the song, however. One judge said that “Halo” might have not been the song for her. Nerves seemed to get the best of Tacderas at some points, which caused her to lose her lyrics. Though judges were expecting to see her next week, they told her she has to extensively prepare for any performance and work on having control over and tuning her voice.


Lauren Tacderas. Photo by Bob Toy.


Acetyn Emayo. Photo by Bob Toy.


The next contestant, Acetyn Emayo, blew everyone away (including me) with his performance of Common Kings’ “Alcoholic.” Emayo is from Hawaii and grew up in a military family. Being the first family member who will be graduating college, he made sure he knew where his passions lie. Majoring in game programming, he uses music to relieve stress, whether it be from homework or just needing a pick-me-up.

Choosing a song with a soulful and island vibe to it, Emayo was able to show his passion through both his background and talent. An unexpectedly down to earth and soothing voice flowed through the atmosphere, and everyone’s heads perked up.

Overall, Emayo received great feedback from the panel, saying he had great vibes and everyone could tell he loved what he was doing. He did receive a piece of constructive criticism, which was to keep his eyes on the audience because that is what seemed to give him confidence. The studio audience and judges all gave him positive votes; no doubt he will be going on to another week of Academy Idol.

Another young talent, Pricilla Tuuholoaki took the stage. She is from Los Angeles, Calif. and is majoring in 3-D animation. She comes from a musical background and family. Tuuholoaki’s parents encouraged her to play several instruments, but the ukulele was the one that stuck with her. When she sings songs that correlate with her ukulele, she feels more at home on stage. However any kind of music is a way to relieve stress and just makes the world a better place.

In her pre-performance video, she mentioned that she never really had the guts to try out for a singing competiton. Though applauding her for conquering those fears during her performance of Lateeya’s “Lullaby,” the judges noted that she did lack confidence while on stage. With that kind of sweet but powerful voice, once she knows how to harness its full capabilities, she will go far. The judges said that once she connects with the audience and feels the performance a little more, she will be a force to beat. Her voice is there, but her stage presence needs to develop.


Pricilla Tuuholoaki. Photo by Bob Toy.


Von Bellows. Photo by Bob Toy.

The final act of the night was appropriately a showstopper. Von Bellows, graduate student and program director, studies multimedia communications.

What Bellows brought to the table was never done before on the show. An original, soulful and emotional slam poem poured out of his lips with so much force and commitment, captivating the entire audience. Bellows stating that he loves poetry, art and being creative was a bit of an understatement. A powerful subject and control of the inflections on his words made for a more than memorable performance.

The judges were astounded and said that there was so much real emotion that it had them hanging onto his every word. Bellows’ execution was phenomenal and he was applauded for sharing such a deep and personal message with the world. His performance was a great way to wrap up the night.

Episode 2: October 7, 2015


(Left to right) 'Academy Idol' host Lorena King and contestants Mansy Yang, Francisse Bondoc, Rick Robinson, Mariyet Abuda and Sabrina Anderson. Photo by Bob Toy.

Smiling hosts and an eager audience started the second episode of Academy Idol season five. First, the hosts, Lorena King, Frank Diaz and Aundria Jolivette, went to the judges, Keanna Moody, Vanessa Garcia, Alexis Moore, Elizabeth Sweeny and Kiyomi Mitsuda, to hear what their opening advice was for the night. The consensus was energy and consistency in the contestants' performances. Diaz then directed the audience's attention to King to watch the first interview and pre-performance package for music production student Sabrina Anderson.


Bohemian beauty Anderson was the first performer of the night. She is from Kansas City, Miss. and has quite the musical family background. Both of her parents sing, but it was her dad that inspired and introduced her to soul and motown music. Her heart clung to the genre ever since. Her favorite artist is Lauryn Hill; Anderson claims Hill is a lyrical genius and her rasp cannot be copied.

When King mentioned that Anderson’s song of choice was Etta James’ “At Last,” you could feel the tension in the room. That song is a classic and requires a strong and soulful voice. Anderson shares that it was the first song she ever performed in front of a crowd, and that she has always loved soulful music. Music is what gets her through her day and is what keeps the world turning.


Sabrina Anderson. Photo by Bob Toy.

When the opening notes of the instrumental filled the room, so did Anderson’s personality. She became calmer on stage, and it was as if she knew she was meant to be up there. During the performance, the judges were dancing in their seats and smiling ear-to-ear. The first judge to critique was Mitsuda, and her comments summed up the performance perfectly, “It was amazing. You hit every single note, it was spot on! You looked very confident, and you carried out the performance very well.” Even through a screen, one could feel the emotion Anderson was trying to convey. Sweeney touched on that by saying, “I truly felt the soul in you, just keep bringing it. You are going to make it to the end for sure!” Overall, the judges had nothing but positive remarks. With that, high expectations and excitement are set for Anderson's future performances.


Mansy Yang. Photo by Bob Toy.

Mansy Yang then took the stage. Yang is originally from China and is majoring in music production and sound design. The reason she entered this competition was to enjoy the process and to learn how different cultures sing. Singing is what makes her feel excited and confident.

Yang’s sweet and light voice singing Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain” was what graced the presence of the judges and audience; interesting and captivating. At certain points, the performance may have been too soft and a bit boring, but overall, the judges were not disappointed. Judge Sweeney said, “I thought this song was perfect for your voice. Your voice is so sweet, and your whole look is so sweet. I want you to bring more confidence because you totally could rock it.” The confidence from the judges did not subside and finished with Moody who said, “I think you need to bring a little bit more energy next time. The song choice was great, your voice is great. Bring it next week!”


Twenty-three-year-old Mariyet Abuda followed. The Holland native credits her dad for her love of music, as he was always in a band. Her major is music production as she wants to do music production for visual media, particularly movies.

Abuda’s rendition of Meghan Trainor’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” was perfect for her voice and style. The audience could tell this was not her first time performing, based on her stage presence and technique. Judge Mitsuda put the audience’s feelings into words by saying, “I was not expecting that. I was not expecting that amount of control you have over the voice. I can tell this is not your first rodeo because every time you hit those high note you will slowly step back from the mic. You know you don’t want to overpower the mic. So your full control and awareness is great.” Moore could not contain his excitement, saying, “I was vibing! You saw that right? I was vibing! If the bar was here, you just put it through the roof. That was incredible. The thing I thought what you did really well was you showcased your ability to go low and high with your voice. Nothing but props here from me.”

Abuda had a beaming smile on her face and a newfound confidence after all of the judges' remarks.


Mariyet Abuda. Photo by Bob Toy.


Francisse Bondoc. Photo by Bob Toy.


Powerhouse Francisse Bondoc was the next performer. She was my personal favorite of the night, and her performance validated growing up in a musical family. Her parents were into ballads, so that is what she grew up with. Her father was in a church band, and he was her first rock star. Bondoc acknowledged that as music changed, so did her style.. Through this competition she wants to meet more people and personalities in the music industry. Experiences are everything to her, and she sees singing as a possible career.

As soon as Bondoc stepped on the stage for her performance of Jessie Ware’s “Say You Love Me,” she was smiling and connecting with the audience. Her voice was impactful and strong, and she knew what her strengths were. The audience was clapping along, and the judges followed suit. This performance gave me goosebumps, and the judges were in awe.

Moody wrapped up the performance when saying, “That was definitely mind blowing. You have a very powerful, soulful voice. You had me in it the whole time! When you were smiling, I could tell you were super comfortable on the stage. You had me smiling, dancing with you… great job! I can’t wait to see you next week.” Judge Garcia was so ecstatic about the performance, asking, “When can I buy your music? I am already a fan!” She is definitely one to watch, but this next performer wowed the judges in a different way.


Energetic and lively Rick Robinson saw this competition as a way to break into a business he had always wanted to be a part of. One could never guess that he was questioning his ability to get on stage and sing for a crowd by his performance of Keith Sweat’s “Nobody” that night.

Watching Robinson, you could feel the utter freedom and confidence he felt. That vibe invaded every single audience member and judge, as they were all smiling and jamming alone. When you get a genuine smile and laugh from your first judge, you know you did okay.


Rick Robinson. Photo by Bob Toy.

 This is what Mitsuda gave Robinson as she said, “That was probably the definition of stage presence and confidence! It was an absolutely spot on performance.” Judge Garcia followed with a humorous and constructive comment, “You had me blushing! It was really good; I want to know what song you are going to sing next. We had some mic problems and some pitchy moments, but your performance is what got everyone, I think.”

The judges were shocked and amazed at all of the performances that night, and Robinson was the perfect way to end the show.

Academy Idol airs live Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. on