Lights. Haze. Adrenaline.
The roar of the crowd – over 450 students are waiting for the next University of Mobile musical legend to grace the stage and lay his or her claim to the coveted belt.
This scene happens once a semester at the most anticipated event at UMobile – COVERS.
Like American Idol or The Voice, COVERS showcases a variety of musical talent on the UMobile campus by giving students the opportunity to audition and perform their favorite song in front of their peers.
Joe Langley ’01, former student activities coordinator, created COVERS in 2002 as a performance outlet for students.
“We had a number of incredibly talented students,” Langley said. “I thought it would be cool to hear them sing their favorite cover song.”
Langley created a sign-up list in the campus activities office and waited for performers.
“There were no auditions at the time, and I had to beg some folks to sign up and play,” Langley said.
The first COVERS event was held in the old Ben May Commons lobby behind Lyon Chapel (now the Ben May Arts & Sciences Building). It featured student musicians and performers “covering” their favorite song, with the only rules being “no original material” and “no suggestive lyrics.” Several performances and one packed house later, COVERS became the newest tradition on UMobile’s campus.
David Cagle ’05, alumni coordinator, hasn’t forgotten those first few performances.
“We had a lot of fun getting COVERS started,” Cagle said. “When it all started, it had a coffee shop vibe to it – mostly acoustic covers and maybe a djembe player with a shaker. It was a fun, laid-back atmosphere and the students watching and participating really seemed to enjoy it.”
Each COVERS winner (based on student vote) is forever enshrined on one of UMobile’s most famous campus fixtures: a plastic, toy wrestling belt with a spinning buckle, known as the COVERS belt.
The COVERS belt, started by Langley, displays the names of legendary COVERS winners in whiteout and bears witness to a history of outstanding performances. There are currently two belts full of names, with a third belt ready to carry on the tradition. While meant to keep the spirit of competition light, the belt gives bragging rights to the most recent winner on the list.
“I thought it would be a fun, goofy trophy,” Langley said.
Since its debut, COVERS has continually grown in popularity and size. After spending a few semesters in the old Commons lobby, the event moved to Moorer Auditorium that seats over 100. Then, COVERS spent several years in Weaver Auditorium before making Ram Hall its home in 2009. Currently, over 450 students cram into auditorium chairs and aisles to see the top student acts compete for the COVERS belt.
Over the years, interest became so overwhelming that auditions were enacted in 2010 to limit the number of performances to 10-15. Student and staff judges select the auditions that provide the most compelling variety for the show.
Production value has also improved drastically from the early days of the barstool and portable PA. While the first few semesters of competition featured solo and duo acts, student involvement has pushed acts to include full band setups and special guest appearances during the event. Instrumentation expanded to banjos and auto-tune processors. Some acts even dressed in era costumes and outlandish characters.
Currently, COVERS performers participate in a photo shoot and intro video to be played prior to each performance. Trusses with programmed moving lights are built around the auditorium. Screens cover the stage’s back wall with themed video and visual effects specific to each performer. The Campus Life department trains student leaders to manage the entire setup – from production and backstage management to the emcees onstage. This provides students with a sense of ownership and pride in the quality of their production.
Ashley Holmes ’13, served in Campus Life leadership for four years. Looking back on her time, she remembers the excitement that COVERS brought to her and the rest of the student team. But most of all, she loved surprising her peers. Whether cannons and confetti at the end of the show or a surprise concert from recording artist Dave Barnes, there’s always a shock factor in the performances.
“I loved seeing all of the great acts, but my absolute favorite was always our element of surprise,” she said. “I’ll definitely never forget the reaction of the students when Dave Barnes hit the stage!”
Many students performing in COVERS are already part of UMobile’s Center for Performing Arts. Because of the immense amount of experience and talent, the audition selection process is often difficult. But other times, an unsuspecting freshman shows up and wows the audience.
“I loved the COVERS moments when a wallflower would step out and blow away the crowd,” Langley said.
Allie Normand, a senior from Mobile, AL has enjoyed COVERS every semester in her time at UMobile.
“The amount of talent is mindblowing,” she said. “It’s so much fun jamming with everyone as you watch your peers go crazy on stage!’
There is no way to predict the winning act – sometimes students vote for the funny, outlandish act; other times the most impressive musical talent wins.
Four-time winner Peter Lake ’10 won with humor and musical prowess.
In spring 2007, Lake won with a hilarious and impressive rendition of comedy duo Tenacious D’s “Tribute (The Best Song in the World).” Later that fall, he was part of the winning group that performed Coldplay’s “Fix You.” In fall 2009, he won by performing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Then in spring 2010, he won with a choreographed display of musical excellence – performing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a full ensemble of dressed vocalists and instrumentalists.
For Lake, COVERS represented a break from all of the recitals and hours of practice as a music and theatre student.
“It was the highlight of my year,” Lake said. “It was a pure outlet for all my tension I built up over the year.” Though COVERS is currently a far cry from its early, minimalistic days, Langley is happy with its new and improved approach.
“I love the way the event has morphed over the years,” Langley said. “I love that they still battle for a name on ‘the belt’. I love the artist stories and introduction packagesthey film.
“But I think that COVERS will always be a student favorite because the student is the show,” he said.