Song FenceJoshua Grosso walks onto the stage, trembling slightly as he prepares to sing. He’s used to playing characters, but now he’s just being himself, singing “A Song for You” in the style of one of his favorites, Donny Hathaway. It’s just Grosso, the song, and the audience. And a $5,000 scholarship is on the line.

This is Campus Superstar, a singing competition—modeled after American Idol—which is open to all Pittsburgh-area college students. A few months earlier, Grosso, a sophomore musical theatre major, had been one of nearly 100 contestants to audition for this event sponsored by the Hillel Jewish University Center. He made it to semifinals and then became one of 10 finalists, along with four other CMU classmates.

  • Veladya Chapman, a junior majoring in musical theatre
  • Arica Jackson, a freshman majoring in musical theatre
  • Clay Singer, a freshman musical theatre major
  • Avery Smith, a sophomore majoring in musical theatre

Making it this far caused Grosso to reflect on his journey. Born in Colombia, he remembers always singing for fun. When he was 12, after his family moved to Florida, he heard a radio ad for a Spanish-language local singing competition and decided to enter. Good decision. He won.

As the Campus Superstar finals approached, all of the finalists worked diligently to perfect solo performances. They also spent late nights together rehearsing group numbers, so they could provide an inspiring performance for what is the biggest fundraiser for Hillel (the center of Jewish life for more than 5,500 Jewish university students in Pittsburgh). Grosso admits he became exhausted from the grueling schedule.

Now his moment of truth has arrived. Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall, filled with an enthusiastic audience, is incredibly quiet as he sings his song’s opening bars. The moment takes him back to that contest in Florida—to that first thrill of communicating with a crowd.

The other singers perform beautifully as well, judging by the applause. The evening is in the audience’s hands now, as everyone in attendance fills out ballots.

CMU’s Avery Smith is named second runner-up.

CMU’s Veladya Chapman is named first runner-up.

Grosso either won the scholarship or will be one of seven finalists not named. Moments later, there are tears in his eyes; they’re tears of joy. The next day, back on campus, he’s not late for his 9am class, where he rehearses Shakespeare scenes, eager for his next stage appearance.

Julie Albright (DC’92)