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Berklee's New Idol: Christina Isabelle Pasqualone

By Brenda Pike 
February 15, 2013
Christina "Isabelle" Pasqualone
 
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Berklee folks watching American Idol last week may have recognized a familiar face making it through to the Top 40: recent graduate Christina “Isabelle” Pasqualone.

No one listening to the power of Pasqualone’s voice could suggest that her success is due to anything but her talent. But that talent was highlighted by a new Berklee student club, the Berklee A&R Artist Development Group. A mixture of music business and music production and engineering majors, Berklee A&R auditions fellow students, works with them to produce professional-quality songs and videos, and submits them to talent scouts. The group is advised by Joe James, a MP&E Department staff member with 25 years of experience in production and A&R, most recently at Interscope/Dreamworks.

After a little more than a year in existence, Pasqualone’s isn’t the only placement the group has made. Student Sutton Gaddis’s band Think has been signed by the All Music Media Group.

On the recommendation of James and Berklee A&R, 14 Berklee students were sent directly to the green room for the first American Idol auditions in June, bypassing the long lines of the “cattle call.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that they jumped straight to the televised auditions. In September, Pasqualone went to Lincoln Center in New York for a daylong set of three more auditions with various production assistants and producers, before moving on to the judges the next day.

Hollywood week was even crazier. Pasqualone says, “They push you to your limits.” More than 400 people from across the country were called back in December. Half were cut in another a cappella round. The remaining singers were assigned groups, chose a song, and practiced overnight, sleeping for an hour before the group audition the next morning. After one more solo round with a band the next day, everyone went home for the holidays (and some sleep!).

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Pasqualone says. Finishing up her last semester at Berklee, she had to do some scrambling to make it to the December auditions. But her teachers were “super supportive” in helping her schedule her proficiencies early so she could do both.

“I couldn’t have done this without Berklee,” she says. “I wouldn’t have had the experience: the life experience or the musical experience.”

Pasqualone wasn’t an “official” Berklee A&R artist when the recommendation was made. James’s contact at Interscope had requested that a former contestant, Naomi Gillies, return for this year’s auditions. Gillies decided not to and suggested Pasqualone. After hearing her sing, James agreed. He helped prepare her for the audition and pin down her song choice (“Summertime,” which was praised by the judges). “He’s really honest with me, always there for questions,” Pasqualone says of James. "I wouldn't be on if it wasn't for him."

Even those who know Pasqualone may have been confused by the way she was identified on Idol. She chose her stage name because she felt that “Christina” didn’t fit her as an artist as well as “Isabelle,” which is her mom’s name and her own middle name. Before Idol, the professional music major (with a focus on music business) was about to release an album that she cowrote with fellow Berklee students as Isabelle. Now she’s waiting to see what’s next—maybe cannibalizing some of the material for a major label release?

For students interested in being a Berklee A&R artist, the next round of auditions will take place at the end of February.


Berklee A&R Showcase Brings The Talent

 
 
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Tim Coakley Band

*UPDATE: Check out more of the A&R Showcase concert photos here!

Article and Photos By: Kayleigh Mill

“Showcase” is the perfect description of Berklee A&R/Artist Development Group’s first concert. When I walked into to The Red Room, I expected a show filled with not just talent – I expect that with every Berklee concert – but also with diversity and a clear knowledge of popular music. The brand new club, started by Joe James and Steven Gringer, didn’t disappoint.

Alexey Sokolov

The lineup included eight performers (two songs each), and was carefully composed of a variety of genres and styles. After the emcee’s slightly-too-long introduction, the show flowed seamlessly with the help of video introductions for every performer filling the gap between each act.

I made sure to show up early to get a good view of the stage, as The Red Room is standing room only for shows like this. I definitely made a good decision, because when I glanced back as the lights dimmed, the room was absolutely packed with people. Playing into the Berklee stereotype, the showcase started off with a very enthusiastic jazz piece by Russian songwriter Alexey Sokolov. I was a little caught off guard by this beginning, having come in expecting strictly popular genres of today, but both of his songs, “Time To Party” and “Forgiveness,” were played passionately and with an impressive technicality. Up next was Raven Katz, and her style was more what I expected. Inspired by Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, she had a very sweet sound that crooned about lost love and abandonment.

Charles Johnson

The folk theme continued when Charles Johnson and his violinist Kailey Shaffer walked on stage. Having been in several Singer/Songwriter Showcases, Charles Johnson is a performer I know well. His rough, gravelly voice and emotional melodies never fail to keep his audience captivated and this show was no different. The room was silent while he sang the heartbreaking “Squirrel” and bluegrass-influenced “Crazy Horse.”

Female rocker Brooke Villanyi stood out for being the first rock act in the show, but not for much else. Byron Manchest, however, owned the stage from the minute he walked on. The crowd clearly knew who he was, but his funk-infused R&B songs were filled with such soul that I’m sure he could have evoked a reaction if he didn’t know a single person there.

Melanie Lynx

Speaking of owning the stage, Melanie Donnelly has the most stage presence I have seen in my time at Berklee. This girl is a pop star waiting to happen. Whether singing her originals or songs written for her (in this case, pop writer Ben Samama), Melanie knows what it means to perform and sound like she’s already part of the top 40s.  Franka Batelic, who has already gained a level of fame in Croatia, also performed in the pop sector of the show. She was very charismatic, but her music was more reminiscent of ‘90s pop than the hits of today. The night ended with Tim Coakley’s Maroon 5-inspired rock band and a somewhat disappointing drop in stage presence.

Overall, the A&R Showcase was entertaining and, well, inspiring. Most of the artists strive to be playing their music for anyone willing to listen five years down the line or longer. The level of passion and commitment to music that these artists display has taken them this far, and the showcase seemed to allude to the great things to come.