Fourteen Finalists Excited, Determined to Make Academy Awards Show a Success


Riley Guyette, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

With this year’s 14 Academy Awards finalists recently being announced, students and staff are getting ready to put together a memorable performance after last year’s fully online show. 

The Academy Awards, formerly known as Mr. NDA, is an annual variety show in which upperclassmen are chosen to show off their unique talents and abilities. 

The show wouldn’t be possible without the help of Jen Laaksonen, who is the head-advisor of the show, Carolyn Brown, Julie Campbell, Holly Hinch and Sarah VanGrunsven.

According to Brown, the show started as a spoof of beauty pageants and talent shows. 

“Everything has evolved to be bigger and better and maybe it was a by-product of the male competitive spirit,” explained Brown, who works with Dubois Formalwear to outfit the male finalists with tuxedos and advises the Tritonian print issue on the show. “Computers, technology–all that has expanded the show’s possibilities,” she said. 

Campbell, who helps with the perfection of contestants’ ideas and with the organization of tickets, agreed with Brown. “Every year the contestants bring new technology and creativity, which keeps the show relevant and new,” said the mother of one of the show’s winners.

Last year’s show was significantly altered during the pandemic as many parts of it was recorded ahead of time instead of being shown live in the auditorium. 

For people who only saw last year’s show, this year will be great to be back live in the auditorium,” explained Hinch, a former rampeteer and emcee of the show, who now helps to coordinate thee rampeteers and emcees. 

“Although I am very proud of what the contestants, emcees, tech crew, and moderators were able to put together during the pandemic, I am very excited that the show will be live this year,” agreed Campbell. “The audience is a very big part of what makes the show so exciting.” 

While previous shows involved 15 contestants, the 2021 show will involve only 14. 

According to Laaksonen, “We had debated in the past narrowing it down to fewer contestants as the show runs pretty long.  Last year our virtual show had fewer contestants so we thought this year would be a good year to put it to an even number.” 

This year, the student body voted for Fawzi Abujamra, Elijah Bieker, Joey Bonadonna, Jack Fitzgerald, Joe Gerbitz, Sophia Hornberger, Chelsey Martinez, Tate Milton, Sophia Richards, Sam Smet, George Streckenbach, Jason Vandenhouten, Adam Vogel and Kian Wasilkoff as the 14 finalists. 

These competitors plan to work hard to make sure the show is enjoyable.

It was always a goal for Junior Jason Vandenhouten to be a contestant in the show. 

“During my freshman year, I was a judge, and seeing the seniors and juniors compete when I was a freshman made me want to become a contender for the show when I became an upperclassman,” recalled Vandenhouten. 

Vandenhouten has prior experience due to being involved in Will Zellner’s winning act last year. 

“I can’t wait to get the show going,” he claimed. “I know this comes with a lot of hard work, but I am ready for the challenge.” 

Vandenhouten isn’t the only participant with that positive mindset.

Although junior Tate Milton had his sights set on the Academy Awards since his freshman year, he still finds it surreal that those sights became reality. 

“I think I have what it takes to win, and so does everyone competing,” explained Milton. “We are just going to put on a great show, and no matter who wins everyone will be happy.”  

Unlike Milton and Vandenhouten, junior Elijah Bieker never expected to be voted into the show.

“When I was younger my siblings guessed that if any of us were to qualify, it would have been me, so I guess they were right but I definitely didn’t expect it to happen,” Bieker explained. “I told myself that I probably would not be voted in, but if I was, I wouldn’t pass on the opportunity to participate.” 

Now that he has been voted in, the contestant is excited about the opportunity he has been given. 

“I won’t let down everyone who voted for me,” he stated. “I really didn’t expect it to happen and in some ways, I feel like it still hasn’t hit me that I’m going to be a part of such a cool project. I’m really excited, though, to put this thing together.”

Fawzi Abujamra, a junior, explained, “I was not expecting to qualify for the Academy Awards this year. I am very glad that I am in it, though, because it sounds like a great experience.” 

Abujamra is very excited that he has the opportunity to make the show as exciting and memorable as previous contestants have made it in the past. 

“In the past, I saw other people go up on stage and make this one of the best events at Notre Dame,” recalled the junior. “I am super excited that I can be one of those people this year putting on a show for everyone that is watching.” 

Three years ago the show’s name changed from “Mr. NDA” to “The Academy Awards.” 

This change was made so female students could participate in the show as contestants. 

Senior Chelsey Martinez claims that she “did not expect to qualify for the academy awards this year mostly because it is known to be a ‘guys event’ and women often don’t get chosen.” 

Knowing that she qualified has brought the senior feelings of both excitement and nervousness. 

“Having been selected, I just want to put on a good show for everyone and have a great time,” stated Martinez. 

Senior Sophia Richards wasn’t initially fond of the idea of girls being part of the show, but as she became more involved with the school it seemed to her like a fun opportunity. 

“It’s a cool feeling knowing that the school supports you and wants to see you up on stage,” explained the contestant. “I can’t wait to work with my friends and classmates to put on an entertaining show.”

Sophie Hornberger, also a senior, expressed her excitement that she qualified to be in the show.

“I am so honored and excited that I qualified to be in the show,” explained Hornberger.  “It’s such a cool event that gets so many people involved, with the contestants, the emcees, tech crew, rampeteers, and all the different people who come together to make the show. I’m really looking forward to working with everyone involved.”