Behind 'Academy's Got Talent'
Communication and trust are key to pulling off a successful school-wide talent show
(L–R) Jacoby Barragan, Pre-Franz Dominick, Donte Burney, Gazmine Griffin and Lada Kondarakhina. Photo by Bob Toy.
Academy of Art University’s student-produced and hosted Academy’s Got Talent has been showcasing the school’s wider scope of talented individuals, from singers and musicians to dancers and DJs. But for all the talent seen in front of the camera, there’s so much more behind the scenes.
It takes a well-oiled machine to put on a production of any magnitude. School of Communications & Media Technologies (COM) Director Jan Yanehiro and Associate Director Steve Kotton know this all too well, which is why Academy’s Got Talent is run by the school’s COM 420 class: In-Depth Project: Studio Entertainment Series.
According to Yanehiro, she wanted this semester’s live production to “change it up, keep it fresh”, and had the class vote to decide to keep Academy Idol or switch it to Academy’s Got Talent.
“I thought it could really open up to somebody that would be a dancer, a magician, would be a breakdancer, would be a DJ,” she said. “I thought we had a lot of talent in this school, not just singers.” When asked for a vote, the class consensus was the same: Academy Idol became Academy’s Got Talent.
The first five weeks are spent studying live television shows and walking through rehearsals. Students decide their own roles—though prospective judges and hosts must audition and are voted upon by secret ballot—so that by week five, their roles are defined, whether that’s part of camera, audio, talent and audience wranglers, graphics, tech, etc.
(L–R) Nathan Goodall, James O’Malley and Imani St. James. Photo by Bob Toy.
Producers, however, rotate every two weeks. Each student is required to volunteer alongside another to act as either lead producer or associate producer. For this season’s fourth and fifth episodes, COM student James O’Malley stepped up, alongside Nathan Goodall, to play producer, where he had to organize everything from talent and backstories to run-down (or, show schedule) and host script.
He said although much of that work is technically his responsibility, as producer, his primary job is to delegate.
“As producer, you’re organizing the pieces and putting them in place and then letting the show go,” said O’Malley, who normally, during live tapings, disappears into the control room to monitor the camera feeds, live stream and socials.
Plenty of these tasks are addressed prior to the show, but O’Malley said the most nerve-wracking part of being a producer is showing up to set and being confident that all bases are covered.
“The first week I didn’t really know what to do so I was a lot more stressed,” he said. “You get here and you just don’t know if everything is done. Like, the show is about to start and you’re like, ‘I hope I thought of everything.’”
Trust is instrumental with any production crew. Students define their roles at the beginning of the class: Austin Esposito, Pre’Franz Dominick and Imani St. James have been their go-to camera crew, duo Jacoby Barragan and Gazmine Griffin as stage manager and floor manager keeps everyone on schedule and Nathan Goodall takes care of the show’s audio. But on an as-needed basis, crew members are quick to volunteer and fill in if necessary.
Barragan has filled in as a judge at least three times this season, and Griffin filled in for host Garrett Bradley when he broke his elbow midseason.
When remote cameras went down in the middle of the live episode, O’Malley and Esposito acted quickly to pick up the loose ends to keep the show going. That smooth landing is but one example of the level of skill and teamwork embedded in this group: “Control Room shouldn’t be afraid to ask me to get the shots, handheld is easy and I’m free to get the shots we need,” Esposito assured the room after receiving high-praise for his quick-thinking.
Lada Kondarakhina, who is stepping in as producer after O’Malley, said, “Without trust, there is no reliability.” She agreed with her associate producer, co-host Beatriz Martinez, in that communication is the most important responsibility.
“If we’re not communicating, it will crumble,” Kondarakhina commented. “It’s a domino effect, if one thing is wobbly, it all goes down the drain otherwise.”
Before taping, the class gathers to go over reviews on the previous week, which includes airing out any issues but also acknowledging the crew’s efforts. The idea, according to Yanehiro, is to establish healthy working relationships.
Imani St. James works behind-the-scenes in the Control Room during a live broadcast of Academy’s Got Talent. Photo by Bob Toy.
“That’s what working on a television show is about,” Kotton said. “You bring a team of people together and they all have to do their job and they all have to step it up so that they’re all doing an expert job at it and then at the end the show looks great and seamless.”
Yanehiro reads the ‘Thank You’ notes out loud so the students can hear their peers’ praises. One week, Yanehiro highlighted Goodall for the special care he took to include every one of his classmates in his notes and to speak about them in the most positive way.
“[Nathan] watched the show, was present for the show and really took the time to review and point out [to] everyone that they’re a part of the class and that they matter,” Yanehiro told her class, speaking to the camaraderie they’ve built. “[This class] is where you’ll know whom you’re going to recommend and hire.”
At print time, Academy’s Got Talent will have only a couple more weeks until they announce the winning contestant on Dec. 14. Kotton said he’s proud of the amount of growth he’s seen between week one and week 12 of the class, and believes it’s a testament to the quality of the program.
“This is a senior level class so it’s a culmination of all the skills that they have learned over their four years,” he said. “Each skill kind of layers on itself. You can put everything you learned as a sophomore and junior to use in this class right here and get a really beautiful piece for your reel.”
Kondarakhina, who’s filled-in for both on-camera and behind-the-scenes, agreed.
“The good thing about this class is that it gives you a real-life perspective or at least a taste of what you’re going to be getting into if you do actually wind up producing for some big company,” she said. “We’re lucky because we get to do a few things at once [or] we do a bit of everything.”