The third annual Next Big Thing took place last night in the Cathedral of the Ozarks. The Next Big Thing is a musical competition of original artists, where the winner walks away with an extended play record deal. The winner is selected by combining audience votes with the judges’ choices.
Senior Chris Hembree, director of BLUE, was in charge of coordinating this year’s competition.
“There are not many opportunities you get to bring together seven original artists, an incredibly talented tech team, and about half a million dollars in production equipment to put on a show that showcases JBU’s students,” Hembree said.
The judges this year were Kara Bird, co-host of KLRC’s “Ride Home” show; Jen Edwards, the University’s instructor of worship ministries; and Andrew Patton, president and CEO of Patton House Entertainment.
“These competitions are interesting,” said Patton. “The hardest job is to write [these] songs.”
Of the seventeen original artists who tried out for this year’s competition, seven were chosen. Many people mentioned the impressive variety of styles and genres represented this year.
“There is a unique sound to each artist, and the BLUE team has been floored by the amount of talent in the show,” Hembree said before the event began.
The masters of ceremony, senior Lizz White and the event’s creator, senior Matthias Roberts, were quick to introduce the first artist, three-time competitor Steve Sullivant.
Sullivant, a junior, began with a song called “Good Enough,” which explored feelings of inadequacy with a silky tone. The judges preferred his second song, “Learning to Say No,” which featured Sullivant on the piano, backed by the soulful moans of strings and a bittersweet harmony.
“I think I’ve made my style more accessible” than last year, said Sullivant in his pre-performance interview.
Following was the only artist without a band, sophomore Jesse “Jeh-sea” Wells, front man for the local band Dead Indian. His gritty voice and the versatile beauty of his guitar work impressed the judges.
“Good gracious, that was good,” Patton told Wells. “You remind me of my late friend Rich Mullins.”
“That was amazing…You hit the raw places of life,” added Bird.
Wells’ first piece, “Hipster Song,” was more mournful and serious than his more hopeful “Nothing’s as Real as the Sunrise.”
Following Wells was sophomore Alex Calentine. Calentine’s honest and simple alto was sometimes gentle, sometimes forceful. Her first song, “Reveal,” was slower and sweet, while “Light” was upbeat and radiant.
Calentine enjoyed much crowd support.
Next came sophomore Lauren Townsend, a second-time competitor, whose fans were among the most vocal. Her first song, “Tap Dancing,” was a sweet story that tugged at her audience’s heartstrings and featured Lauren’s country influences and a smile that matched her lyrics.
Townsend’s second song, “Only You,” was inspired by the feelings of helplessness after she broke her leg over the summer, and was quieter and more haunting than the first.
The judges and Townsend’s friends all recognized a great improvement over last year’s performance, especially in the maturity of her songwriting.
Soon Hello Daybreak took the stage with their fast-paced worship song, “All Across the Earth.” Hello Daybreak met while attending high school in Kansas City. Though only three of the seven members attend John Brown University, their friendship and harmony was evident as they cheerfully welcomed the audience back from intermission.
They followed this with “All We Are,” a compelling song with a strong drum line, encouraging the audience to sing along.
Senior Bryan Roe was next up, bringing a mellower sound on his guitar with “Bended Knee,” backed by a banjo, a piano, and a sweet harmony from junior Allison Harper.
He followed with “I’ll Find Rest Somewhere,” a sunny tune, complete with whistling, that felt nostalgic to many audience members.
“It’s like the soundtrack to my life,” Bird told Roe.
To finish the night, Guru & the Baron, a four-man band, took the stage with their song “Body & Soul.” The song combined a bluesy beginning with rock, creating a unique sound. Their second song, “Sunshine,” had a simpler vocal part than their first song, but a funkier feel.
The judges had similar compliments and critiques about the music itself, but had a split opinion on the fact that bassist Asher Perkins was wearing a cape.
Then the voting began. Audience members texted in their choices while last year’s winners, Criston and Caleb, performed three songs from their extended play record.
Finally, the winner was announced. Jeh-sea Wells was named The Next Big Thing.
Wells seemed surprised to hear the news, calling the experience “far out.” After thanking the audience, he said, “I wrote especially for you all. I had never been to a place where I liked so many people I was with all the time. That’s a neat thing.”
Wells said, both before and after the competition, that winning or losing was not really the point of The Next Big Thing. On his reaction to winning, he said, “I feel all right. I’ll know more once the dust settles.”