Meet the Judges - SUSO 23 Finals
Published: Thursday 21 September, 2023
In this edition of our Meet the Makers series we get the inside word from the artists sitting on the judging panel of this year’s Stand Up, Stand Out (SUSO) Competition.
The judges are all artists with years of experience and each one is a fount of knowledge when it comes to not just surviving but thriving in our local music and dance industry. We caught up with SUSO 23 judges Sam V, Julien Dyne, Rina Chae, Tonga Vaea and Cherie Mathieson and they told us how impressed they are with this year’s SUSO competitors, let us know what they’re looking for at the finals this Saturday and very generously shared some helpful tips for finalists to keep in mind before they go on stage.
Tonga Vaea, Gene Rivers, Julien Dyne | photo by Grant Apiata
To start off, let’s get straight to the good stuff. We asked each judge to give us their three top tips for finalists competing at SUSO this weekend.
- Never let them forget
- It’s only a mistake if you show it
- Try to create moments for people
- Stay zoned in from before entering the stage
- Don’t hold back
- Take us on a journey cuz remember the audience and the judges want to feel what you feel also
- And have fun.
- Triple check tuning of instruments (this includes vocal warm ups/horn sectionals), make sure leads/equipment are functioning correctly
- Don't be afraid to ask for what you want to hear in your monitors, is that the correct patch on the electric piano? The effects pedals are working?
- Stay composed/recover well if anything goes awry - but also give it everything and really go for it on stage!
- Authenticity is Key: Always remain true to yourself and your art. Your unique voice and style are what set you apart from the rest. Embrace that.
- Practice with Purpose: Talent is the starting point, but dedication and purposeful practice will take you further. Remember, it’s not just about the number of hours you put in, but the quality of those hours.
- Connect with your Audience: Whether it’s through your eyes, your movements, or your voice, make an effort to establish an emotional connection with your audience. When you connect with someone whilst performing, you become unforgettable.
As a judge, what are you looking for from finalists at the Finals Showcase?
Well, firstly it wasn’t easy selecting our finalists. Going from over 100 students to 5 isn’t a menial task. I know for me I was looking for creativity, showmanship and originality. I’m such a big advocate for the adage “never let them (the audience) forget” and I think that informed my scores.
I want to see the dancers LIVING THEIR LIVES.
I think the biggest thing is that they are in the finals for what they have shown us already, but they will need to make a step up from that point to be able to win. I’m excited to see what new elements they take in their performances to show us why they should take the W.
An excellent performance, high level of musicianship, cohesion within the group, solid and nuanced groove / feel from the rhythm section, musical interaction, an awareness of audience and surroundings, mic technique, singing range/ tone and intonation.
In my many years in the industry, I've come to appreciate a few essential elements that make an artist truly stand out. Here's what I'll be looking for during the Finals performances:
- Technical Proficiency: While raw talent is a gift, honed skill is an achievement. I'll be looking for those who have put in the hours to refine their craft, be it in vocal control and/or musical mastery.
- Emotional Resonance: Technical skill is essential, but the ability to convey genuine emotion and connect with an audience is paramount. I want to feel something when you perform; I want to be moved, surprised, or elated.
- Originality and Creativity: I always appreciate those who can bring something unique to the table, whether it's a fresh interpretation of your song from the heats/semi finals or an entirely new piece.
- Stage Presence: The stage is a performer's world, and owning it is crucial. Confidence, charisma, and the ability to engage with the audience can set an artist apart.
- Overall Presentation: This encompasses everything from attire to the cohesion of a performance piece. Remember, every little detail contributes to the overall impact of a performance.
In the end, I'm looking for passion, dedication, and the spark that tells me you're not just performing, but sharing a piece of your best creative self with us.
SUSO 23 Semi Finals | Photo by Grant Apiata
Was there anything that really stood out to you or surprised you in the semi-finals?
I think the level and standard of talent we have in our schools is inspiring. I’m very excited to see these kids filtering through into the NZ and international music industries.
I think I’ve been surprised just by how much talent there is in Tāmaki currently. There are some musicians this year that could become full time session musicians right now and that’s mind blowing.
It stood out to me how well the artists adapt to a new environment and in a professional setting like the Herald Theatre venue. It’s so awesome to see rangatahi excel and step up without hesitation!
The talent all across the board was of such a high level I had to remind myself this was a high school-age contest, not well established professionals performing.
Was there anything like Stand Up Stand Out when you were in high school?
Not really at this level, we had the Smokefree Rockquest around that that time, I feel like SUSO is much more all-encompassing. Its scope is broader allowing and catering for all manner of styles and individual needs.
Sadly no I’m old and dance, especially schools participating in street dance, wasn’t common.
Yea there definitely was, but why I think SUSO stands out is the relationship building and knowledge sharing that happens after these comps that is awesome. The team that run this aren’t just organising it, they understand the care that is needed to look after these young creatives and support their dreams.
Back in my day, there weren’t platforms quite as prominent as Stand Up Stand Out.
While we had local competitions and talent showcases, the exposure and opportunities that this platform provides for rangatahi is unparalleled.
It was around and I would hear about it 😂 but my school wouldn’t promote it to us.
SUSO 23 Semi Finals | Photo by Grant Apiata
Going forward, what do you think these talented rangatahi can bring to our local music/dance scene?
The rangatahi represent the future of our music scene in Aotearoa.
Their fresh perspectives, diverse backgrounds, and the fusion of traditional and contemporary styles can usher in a renaissance of creativity and innovation.
I genuinely believe that with the right guidance and opportunities, they can elevate our local scene to global standards, showcasing the uniqueness of Aotearoa to the world.
All of what we have heard and witnessed so far in SUSO ! Incredible musicianship, depth and understanding of songwriting, repertoire choice, confident performances, positive and motivated attitudes towards performing and recording music
A lot! I mean these kids will take this space to new levels with their understanding of music because knowledge these days is at their fingertips just like the world so I’m excited to see where the journey goes for these kids.
They will be the leaders and the bodies of the community
Whatever they want, the next generation is so capable and exciting.
What does it mean to you to be judging Stand Up Stand Out?
It means a whole lot. It’s an honour. I grew up like these kids in comps in high school with my best mates and just playing either renditions of songs we loved or originals we wanted people to hear, but just kids that love music and I see myself in these kids.
It means I get to witness the up and coming artists that will be carrying the music and dance industry in the near future
This is my first time judging and my first time being involved with SUSO (we weren’t offered it at my school sadly), I’ve become such a huge fan of the team and kaupapa behind it; so If I can inspire, encourage or motivate any of our students to consider pursuing music, I’m stoked.
To be judging Stand Up Stand Out is an immense privilege.
Having dedicated most of my life to the art and craft of music, I am deeply honoured to be in a position where I can guide, nurture, and witness the next generation of artists.
Music and dance are not just art forms, they're expressions of the deepest parts of who we are and being part of this journey for rangatahi is unbelievably fulfilling.
I am honoured to be involved as a judge for SUSO. It has given me a great appreciation and understanding of the talent and diversity we have within our youth in Tāmaki Makaurau. It has been extremely rewarding to be a part of this experience, thank you for having me!
SUSO 23 Semi Finals | Photo by Grant Apiata
What would you say to rangatahi in Aotearoa dreaming of a career in music and dance?
That you’re talented and the world is your canvas. Keep learning and progressing in your craft but always remember your why.
All is possible, just takes the right kind of work and resilient effort to make it.
Devote time and energy to learning your craft well (and all the different elements that go along with it ), experience is vital, get out there and spend time doing it, performing, writing, and recording. Ask for help/advice! - there are so many knowledgeable people and organisations who can give wisdom/tips on all aspects of this business.
Get out there and apply for things, ask to perform/record, hustling is an artform unto itself but is super important to get yourself in the door.
A career in music is not an easy road you have to have an unquestionable devotion and love for it, be dedicated to the art, be resilient , look after yourself and have a positive outlook.
Utilise the tools you have at your fingertips to promote yourself; your phone + social media can take you anywhere.
To every rangatahi in Aotearoa with aspirations in music, I say: Pursue your passion with all your heart.
The journey will be filled with challenges and setbacks, but with resilience, dedication, and a true love for your craft, the rewards will be immeasurable.
Every great artist started with a dream, just like yours. Stay inspired, keep learning, and let your voice be heard.