Belmont Vision – James Cole has the audience singing and sliding into the Hip Hop / R&B Showcase victory
James Cole has won the Hip Hop/R&B Showcase on the very stage he dreamed of performing on.
Showcase inspired Cole to perform, but also reinforced his decision to attend Belmont. Doing his young man proud, the eldest did exactly what he came here to do – and since Saturday’s win he’s on his way to Best of the Best Showcase in April.
“I’m glad the hard work paid off,” Cole said after the lights went out.
He began his performance on his knees quietly, but cheers broke through the silence with the very first note he sang. Soon dancing on stage and dressed in yellow, Cole had all eyes and the cameras at the Curb Event Center on him.
The audience swayed to the groovy opener, “Love It,” featuring former Belmont student Leah Colon. The pop-R&B artist sang two more original songs: “Come Slide” and “Back to the Bottle.”
Cole invited the audience to join him in his closing song, “Back to the Bottle”, where they eagerly sang its title to him.
With a stage presence like Cole’s, he can stand on his own, but he attributes his performance to months of practice, fine-tuning, movement and special effects, he said.
And while it was Cole who ultimately won over the judges, three other artists walked away with an arena full of new fans.
Charismatic freshman Jake Whipple took first place in the lineup, remarkable with his blue velvet suit coat and broad smile.
Multi-colored lights set the initial stage for “Work It Out”, his first original song. Much like a younger, blonder Bruno Mars, Whipple’s melodic rapping brought a groovy pop sound to the stage.
Whipple made people in the front rows swoon with his grunts, growls and raspy voice in “Hold On” and “Running Away.” While none of Whipple’s tracks have made it to streaming services, they will be arriving soon.
The second performer of the night, second Sheldon Smith, brought the blues to life in the best possible way. Taking advantage of an incredible vocal range and insanely complex tracks, Smith’s vocals were sweet as honey.
A trio of swaying background vocalists accompanied Smith with soulful harmonies and gospel choir beats as a sea of phone flashlights illuminated the Curb during Smith’s original song “Ride.”
Bringing a romantic sound to the genre in “Sweetest Dream,” Smith charmed audiences with his moving lyrics and entertained with his stage presence, dancing with his band’s musicians.
Audiences echoed Smith’s “My Love” closer as he walked out.
The final act of the night was Kendall “KSTOW” Stowers, alongside Kelly “Kelly2face” Dozier. The duo brought energy and blasted the Curb to their crowd-pleasing original “Smash.” With his one-word hook, the audience was able to catch on pretty quickly.
The rap artists leveled with the crowd and the audience matched their energy. KSTOW’s stage mannerisms, vocal expressions and rapping style are reminiscent of experimental hip-hop artist and actor Daveed Diggs.
The four artists have all brought their own twist to the genre, while retaining its essence.
CEMB’s Hip Hop/R&B showcase is the final genre showcase before Cole joins this year’s winners – indie-pop rocker Bridey Costello, Christian artist Sully Bright and country man Trent Wayne – for Best of the Best.
PICTURED: James Cole at Saturday’s Hip Hop/R&B Showcase at the Curb Event Center. Jaymey Hedberg/Belmont Vision
This article was written by Jaymey Hedberg.
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