Best of the Best: Where are they now?
Many Belmont students dream of writing that next big hit, hearing their song on the radio and making it in the music industry with their name in lights. For four performers every year, the Best of the Best Showcase gives a little taste of what that career could be like.
Belmont sees potential in these showcase artists, but it’s a matter of whether a highly competitive music industry agrees that really counts.
Since performing in the Best of the Best, which follows the four genre showcases each year, many artists have taken their talents beyond Belmont, continuing to strive toward their musical ambitions.
For 2010 alumna and Country Showcase winner Cheryl LuQuire, the Best of the Best Showcase displayed what she wanted to do for the rest of her life – be an artist. However, she also wanted to be a songwriter.
“It’s hard to do that while you’re in school,” LuQuire said. “I was so involved in college … just being a Bruin. Music didn’t take a backburner, but songwriting did.”
Even after becoming a full-time worship leader at Crossroads Community Church and working on songwriting, LuQuire knew something was missing.
“Until I had a physical, hard copy of something to hand somebody, [my passion for music] didn’t mean anything,” she said. “So I was doing all the groundwork I had to do to release an EP.”
In March 2011, after building a solid support team of friends, family, and music industry personnel, LuQuire held that tangible piece of her passion and hard work when her eponymous debut EP was released.
“It continued this buzz either around Music Row or just between friends or within business relationships,” she said.
With her first EP completed, LuQuire was ready to keep moving forward. “Whether it be record labels or publishing companies, I put my name out there. I love being a writer, being an artist, and I wanted to take it to the next level.”
The next level included a pen and her signature. LuQuire signed her first artist development/publishing deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing in February 2012.
For her, she sees reachable dreams, but she also sees dreams that she feels are almost untouchable. She said is humbled to have both with such a large and powerful company believe in her and having such a supportive team backing her up, equipping her to reach that untouchable goal.
After signing with SONY/ATV, LuQuire’s ultimate goal seems to be even more tangible.
“I want to be country music’s top female vocalist and the CMA Entertainer of the Year,” she said.
After performing in the 2011 Best of the Best Showcase and graduating last May, Rock Showcase winner Evan P. Donohue hit the ground running with his musical career after releasing his first album, “Rhythm & Amplitude,” in 2010.
In June 2011, Donohue toured through the north and southeast United States, including shows in Brooklyn and New York’s Lower East Side. He also recorded a 7-inch vinyl record that has two tracks, one of which will be released on his upcoming album.
Donohue hired manager John Ritchie, owner of the blog “Carl’s Country Club” and creator of the “Front Porch” videos.
With a manager on board, Donohue was on the road again.
He went back on tour last November – this time with Nashville singer/songwriter Natalie Prass.
While preparing to participate in the Road to Bonnaroo for a second straight year, Donohue has continued to write music, prepare his catalog for the release of his second studio album, and work on putting a new band together.
Fans can also find Donohue performing at The Basement and Mercy Lounge playing for capacity crowds.
“Those are my two favorite places to play,” he said.
Since graduating, Donohue has created a following of fans while leaving behind a sizeable audience at Belmont.
“It was really encouraging for me to have that sort of recognition from my school and my peers playing in the Best of the Best Showcase,” he said. “It was important to me because it showed that my university is supportive of what I do.”
For one Best of the Best Showcase performer, graduation and a promising post-graduation career in music is right around the corner for Bianca Edwards.
Most know her as Miss B.
After graduation, Edwards said she feels she will have more time to focus on her music, even though she has done anything but slack off during her time at Belmont.
A music business major, Edwards won the 2009 Urban/Pop Showcase as a sophomore and made it to the 2010 Best of the Best Showcase.
“The amount of people you perform for when you perform in the Best of the Best is just amazing,” she said.
Since having the Best of the Best Showcase exposure, Edwards has worked with producer Free Smith who produced one of her songs she performed in the 2011 Urban/Pop Showcase. She also interned at radio station HOT 97 and Black Entertainment Television during her junior year in the Belmont East program in New York City.
Edwards will move to New York City in May with a job with promotions at HOT 97.
Until then, she has a current project planned with a twist.
“It is totally under wraps. It’s going to be good is all I can say about it,” Edwards said.
But she is going to tweet “little hints” as the anticipated May release date approaches.
“I do a lot of storytelling through my music,” she said. “I’m just excited about being done with school and being able to dedicate a lot of my time to music.”
For 2010 Christian showcase winner ColorFire, the 2011 Best of the Best Showcase was one of the last performances Landon Austin, Justin Ebach and Aaron Lagrone would have as this pop-electronic band.
With viral YouTube videos, successful online marketing efforts and national attention from personalities like radio host Kidd Kraddick and Coldplay, the Best of the Best Showcase could have been another step toward the growing success of this group.
“It’s always great to be able to play a show in front of a large crowd with high-end audio equipment, because most bands won’t see that kind of setting until they become very successful,” former drummer Aaron Lagrone said. “The Best of the Best was a good platform for us to be seen.”
Instead, ColorFire became a short-lived project when the band decided to go separate ways in August 2011.
“ColorFire was a great thing while we were in school,” former lead vocalist Austin said.
Although the band had potential, its members just decided to do different things.
After graduating from Belmont in May 2011, Austin became a solo artist, signing with ColorFire’s producers Jason Ingram and Dan Muckala. Ingram and Muckala have also worked with Brandon Heath, Tenth Avenue North, Casting Crowns, Nick Jonas and the Backstreet Boys.
Austin began his solo career by taking advantage of social media, specifically YouTube, which had a rather immediate impact on his music.
“My first cover was ‘Pumped Up Kicks,’ and it’s at 570,235 views right now. I started working with bigger YouTubers and it’s helped my fan base grow tremendously,” he said.
Austin’s fan base includes some very familiar names in the music industry.
“Taylor Swift tweeted about my cover of ‘Sparks Fly’ and ironically, I ran into her the same night that she tweeted me,” Austin said. “Gavin DeGraw and Plug In Stereo have also tweeted about my covers of their songs.”
In addition to making use of YouTube, Austin has recently toured in Texas with the band, Jenny & Tyler. He is also coming out with a new CD this spring.
After ColorFire, former keyboard player Justin Ebach continued to write and produce music.
“Justin started Cautioners as an outlet for his new music and vision for ministry,” Lagrone said. “It was very centered around a unique approach to spreading God’s love through music.”
Cautioners was created as an alternative/rock band in October 2011. In addition to Lagrone, Ebach brought on Alex Edwards and Jon Soderholm. The group released their first EP, “Walk Like Giants,” in November 2011.
“With Alex Edwards and Jon Soderholm joining in, we came along side Justin’s writing and created our own unique sound,” Lagrone said.
While ColorFire produced “playful electronic sounds,” Lagrone says Cautioners has a more acoustic guitar emphasis letting the guitar create the “unique and signature sounds.”
With Cautioners in its infancy, the group hopes to get their name out in the music community.
“Ultimately, Cautioners was started from the ground up,” Lagrone said. “Like every band we’re going through the beginning stages just trying to play shows and get people aware of our music.”
With the breakup of ColorFire and the launching of other careers, these three Belmont musicians have continued to stay friends and remain musically connected. While Ebach helps produce several songs featured in Austin’s YouTube videos, Lagrone occasionally performs alongside his former bandmate.
“Aaron actually tours with me and he accompanies me when I play shows,” Austin said. “We have been playing together since even before ColorFire… He’s a really talented guy and we still have a lot of fun.”