Five, four, three, two, one.
Host Ryan Citrino kicked off the night with some jokes, standing on a triangle-shaped stage, inspired by the 1975 at the Brit Awards.
Up first, Kenzie Palmer, the Country Showcase winner, pranced out onstage in a bright pink outfit with pink lights flashing in the background. Her song “Pink Picket Fence” confirmed the pink theme was intentional.
From the back of the bleachers, the sound was not prime — almost as if the only speakers in the arena were at the front right next to the stage.
In between the Best of the Best contestants, ASCAP Writers’ Night winners, Anna Vaus and Jordan Xidas, each played an original. They performed on a small diamond-shaped stage in front of the large one, while the stage crew set up for the next act behind them.
Vaus played an original called “Somebody Died,” and Xidas played one called “Break My Heart.” The hard-hitting lyrics and catchy melodies of the two songwriters hit the audience in the heart.
“Break my heart so that I know what it feels like to be loved,” Xidas sang.
From those first three performers, it was clear the ASCAP winners might be better than the main performers.
Before the next main performer hit the big stage, Citrino told some more jokes, but there was sparse applause from the audience.
Next up was Estef, the Urban/Pop Showcase winner. A moonlight theme, Estef walked out on stage in flowing white dress, and falling stars floated across the screen behind her.
Urban/Pop might not even be the correct category for Estef. Her songs, reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, were a mixture of old soul and modern pop music. She ended with a cover of Whitney Houston’s 1987 classic, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
Two more ASCAP Writers’ Night winners, Matt Roy and Brad Blackburn, stepped out onto the smaller stage. In Roy’s original, he told his favorite truck to “rust in peace.” It was one of the most clever songs of the night.
In Blackburn’s “Heaven Knows,” his mic fell, but he played through it without a hitch. His lyrics proclaimed, “I’m tired of living for myself, I know that I need something else.”
It was immediately clear how all of the songwriters won the Writers’ Night. Their lyrics, melodies and messages outshined that of the most of the main performers on the big stage.
Alyssa Newton, the Christian Showcase winner, hit the big stage next, making her the first female main performer of the night to play an instrument on the stage.
The audio was flaky. There were parts when her vocals were drowned out by the fullness of the backing band and her guitar was barely audible.
The crowd, however, was enthusiastic about Newton. A crowd ran up to the front of the stage as Newton performed, cheering her on and swaying to the music.
Before her second song, Newton gave a “life chat” to the audience about stepping out of culture and into Kingdom, a beautiful interlude of guitar, keys and violin playing in the background.
Two special guests, Belmont alumni Jordan Reynolds and Kassi Ashton, played in between Newton and the last main performer.
Reynolds and Ashton provided the audience with the most impressive humor of the night, and it was all unintended.
Reynolds played his song “Gettin’ in the Way,” a song recently recorded by Keith Urban, and was followed by Ashton, who danced provocatively as she sang.
“There’s a reason they put me in between the Christian Showcase winner and you,” Reynolds said to Ashton, followed by a roar of laughter from the audience.
Reynolds then told a story. When he was performing in the 2011 Country Showcase, the spotlight flashed across a beautiful girl in the audience. A few days later, he received a friend request from the girl on Facebook. That was how he met his wife.
“I met my boyfriend on Tinder,” Ashton interjected in her deep Southern accent, followed by another fierce wave of fierce laughter from the audience.
When Citrino got back onstage, he jokingly admitted their comedy might be funnier than his. Both were funny, but Reynolds and Ashton were authentic, made up in the moment.
The last performer was the only band to make it to the Best of the Best Showcase – Rock Showcase and 2016 Battle of the Bands winner, Wilder. The vocals were barely audible, and the lead singer’s microphone was acting up. Nevertheless, the band persisted, and its Mumford & Sons feel rang through the loudspeakers.
The main performers, while talented, were not the best part of the show. The songwriters playing in between the big stage performers were the stars of the night. Part of that may be due to the poor audio on the main stage, but all in all, the songwriters’ melodies were more catchy, their lyrics more meaningful and their comedy funnier than the main acts.
This article was written by Reed Ferguson. Photos by Carina Eudy.