“It’s Insane That You’re Singing Like That!”

Winners of FutureStars prelims head to Jan. 17 finale
Robert Axelrod of Huron High. His break dance earned him a spot in the Jan. 17 FutureStars 2009 finals.

Robert Axelrod of Huron High. His break dance earned him a spot in the Jan. 17 FutureStars 2009 finals.

When The Chronicle covered a dress rehearsal of Pioneer Theatre Guild’s “Miss Saigon” last fall, many people we met backstage urged us to check out their annual FutureStars show too, and we marked our calendars. That date rolled around this weekend, when FutureStars 2009 kicked off with a total of four shows on Friday and Saturday, leading up to the blowout finale next Saturday, Jan. 17. [confirm date]

FutureStars is modeled after the pop culture phenomenon American Idol, minus the Simon Cowell acerbity. It’s a talent show, primarily of singers but with some dance performances tossed into the mix, too. In fact, one of the crowd favorites from Friday’s students-only show was a 6-foot-4 break dancer, Robert Axelrod from Huron High School. He’s advancing to the finals.

Like American Idol, a panel of judges give critiques after each performance. Unlike American Idol, those critiques were almost exclusively pouring on the love (see below for some examples). For the prelims on Friday, there were six judges: Etai BenShlomo and Bryan Langlitz, seniors in the University of Michigan’s theater program; Dorothy Yarrington and Scott Mooney, Pioneer High graduates (Yarrington was last year’s FutureStars winner, and Mooney was a host); and Don Packard and Jan Baublis (“Mr. Packard” and “Ms. Baublis”), teachers at Pioneer.

John Spalding sings "Say Goodbye" to Maia Gleason.

John Spalding sings "Say Goodbye" to Maia Gleason.

In the prelims, judges pick the top five performers for each show, and from that group the audience votes with applause to pick the three winners who’ll move on to the Jan. 17 finals.

For the finals, people dubbed by the Guild as celebrities will take over judging duties: Robb Woulfe, executive director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival; Roger LeLievre, music writer for The Ann Arbor News; and Angela Corsi, Miss Michigan 2007.

Each of the prelims has a theme. For Friday’s 9:30 p.m. show, which The Chronicle attended even though it was billed for students only, the theme was “Love Sucks.” As cheerless as that sounds, nearly all of the acts were performed with an exuberance that delivered the subtext, “Hey, love sucks – but look at what fun we’re having!” The singers were accompanied by a live band. For the finals, the local group The Hard Lessons will perform.

The Chronicle also learned that some of the prelim shows have a certain reputation. In the students-only shows, for example, parents and a smattering of other adults are relegated to seats in the back of the auditorium marked off with yellow “Caution” tape. These shows are looser, more fun, a little more (ironically) “adult.” And of the four prelims this year, word is that the best one is Saturday’s students-only show, with the theme “On My iPod.” That was an insight The Chronicle picked up from Farah, an exchange student from Munich who disembarked the No. 15 AATA bus with us on Friday night and was heading to the Pioneer basketball game. She was hoping to catch a ride home with her friend, because the bus doesn’t run that late.

Max and Chavonna sing the duet No Air.

Max Rasmussen and Chavonna Bigham sing the duet "No Air." They are finalists and will be performing on Jan. 17.

The FutureStars finals are expected to be an even higher-energy evening of entertainment. If that’s true, you can expect more audience cell-phone waves (imagine Bic lighters held aloft, but with a blue-screen glow), standing ovations and good-natured heckling. Last year, 1,200 people attended. Because this year the competition includes performers from all four Ann Arbor high schools, attendance will likely be even higher.

If you’re reading this in time for Saturday evening’s shows at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (students only), tickets are $5 at the Pioneer’s Schreiber Auditorium box office.

The Saturday, Jan. 17 finale starts at 7:30 p.m. in Schreiber Auditorium. Tickets for adults are $12, with students, senior citizens and teachers paying $8. Starting Monday, Jan. 12, you can buy tickets in advance at Morgan & York, 1928 Packard. The store accepts credit card payments – the theater box office does not. More information about this and other shows this season is on the Pioneer Theatre Guild’s website.

Finally, here’s a sampling of the judges’ comments from Friday’s students-only show:

  • “You both sound absolutely sick!”
  • “Your power belts are amazing.”
  • “In years to come, you’ll be paying the rent with those voices.”
  • “You look like a rock star up there.”
  • “I think you’ve got more soul in your pinkie than I’ve got in my entire body.”
  • “Your high notes and your riffs are like candy.”
  • “I can’t wait to buy your album.”
  • “This might be why you weren’t in class today.”
  • “You were super sassy and you had so much attitude.”
  • “That was absolutely tight.”
  • “It’s insane that you’re singing like that.”
  • “People who are 6-foot-4 don’t normally move like that.”

And thanks to Myra Klarman for all the photos you see here.

Robby Eisentrout, a finalist from Friday night students-only show, sang With or Without You.

Robby Eisentrout, a finalist from Friday night's students-only show, sang "With or Without You."

Ashley Park and Sonya Major

Ashley Park and Sonya Major sing "Take Me or Leave Me."

Julius Theophilus

Julius Theophilus gave a break dance performance.

The Rising Stars, an ensemble of underclassmen, performed opening and closing numbers for the Friday students-only show.

The Rising Stars, an ensemble of underclassmen, performed opening and closing numbers for Friday's students-only show.


Bekah Lauer, Molly Epstein and Maya Bassett-Kennedy listen to judges' comments after singing "Go Ahead."

Credits: FutureStars 2009 was directed by Sadie Yarrington and Amanda Choate, UM dance and musical theatre students. The vocal directors – Desi Oakley and Han Park – are also studying musical theater at UM. The show’s music director is David Perample, a local musician and accompanist for the Pioneer High School Choirs.

A final bit of behind-the-scenes drama: Two of the judges, UM students Etai BenShlomo and Bryan Langlitz, found out during Friday night’s late show that they’d both been cast in UM’s main spring show, “42nd Street.” Langlitz landed the role of the show’s romantic male lead, Billy Lawlor. Both are also former Theatre Guild directors – BenShlomo directed last year’s “Willy Wonka” and “Miss Saigon” productions, and Langlitz served as his assistant director.


  1. By Lauren
    January 11, 2009 at 5:26 pm | permalink

    I just want to say thanks for giving us this exposure! LOL u speak foe everyone in future/rising stars when I say that we worked very hard and we bad the best time doing it!! If you misses the first two shows both student and open house shows you were definitely missing out. But believe me when I say y’all ain’t seen nothin yet!!!!

  2. By Michael
    January 11, 2009 at 5:54 pm | permalink

    Thank you so much for this article. It is nice to see so many people caring about the show.