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Cadets Participate in Cadet Idol

cadet playing guitar and singing into microphone

Cadet Ben Doehler ’21, one of three finalists, performs during the finale. He was the overall winner.—Photo by Cadet Christina Skaggs ’22.

The lights dim and the host welcomes the audience to another night of fierce competition. Nervous contestants mentally steady themselves to see who will be the next Cadet Idol.

Hosted by the VMI Corps of Cadets S7 staff to showcase the musical talents of various members of the Corps, Cadet Idol is a musical competition show similar to its namesake, American Idol. Talented cadets stepped up and performed songs in J.M. Hall, then received feedback from a rotating panel of judges. Later rounds were held in barracks courtyards. Videos of each round were posted online on YouTube. Various members of the Corps and commandant’s staff offered up their time and ears to help make this event a success.

Due to COVID-19, “we didn’t have much going on through the staff,” said Cadet William Welch ’22. The staff “wanted to bring something that we can [use to] connect families at home and friends at home with cadets here.” Welch hosted every night of the competition, serving in a similar role to Ryan Seacrest on American Idol.

In early February, the event began with two nights of auditions to thin the field and pick who would be competing. This was then followed by the first night of competition. Songs varied, from well-loved movie songs to classics made famous by Rat Pack crooners. There was even a cadet who auditioned with a song in Vietnamese.

Cadet James Young ’21 gives Cadet Idol contestants feedback while fellow judge Capt. Corey Bachman ’07 listens.—Photo by Cadet Christina Skaggs ’22.

All hopeful cadets performed, followed by a week of voting for who would move on to the next round. Voting was open to anyone through an online form that transitioned to a text line. In the first round, people could vote for up to four cadets. The number of votes per person decreased as the rounds went on until the finale April 1.

Cadets Joyce Ellis ’24 and Ashlyn Edwards ’24 made it to the semifinal round. They were unique in that they performed as a pair; most cadets did solo acts. “When we saw there was actually a competition, we were excited because we wanted to do songs together,” Edwards said when asked why they decided to compete. “We thought that a lot of people wouldn’t be doing duets, so we thought that we could bring some variety.”

While neither one of the pair knew each other before arriving at VMI, both had years of experience with musical performance. Ellis started in middle school chorus, and Edwards said she has been “pretty much singing since I could talk,” as well as playing the piano for more than 10 years. Even more impressive, Ellis and Edwards were quarantined with COVID-19 shortly after the competition started, forcing them to compete over video for several nights.

One of the judges, Cadet James Young ’21, the pipe band drum major, said, “I thought it was overall an amazing experience at a really great overall event from the S7 staff.” He talked about how he was blown away by the high involvement of many commissioning cadets. “There’s a lot of hidden music talent beyond just Band Company in the Corps.”

The ultimate winner of the competition was Cadet Ben Doehler ’21, who played guitar and sang. He won an Xbox series X, a PS5, and a set of games and an extra controller, as well as the coveted title of Cadet Idol.

Now the question remains, who will take up the mantle next year?

  • Cadet Jackson Mercer '22 Alumni Agencies Communications Intern