Dim the lights, and here we go.
The seven finalists of the Student Activities Association’s Ole Miss Idol event sat anxiously, awaiting the results of this year’s competition on Nov. 9 in the Student Union Ballroom. Even without the dramatic red lighting, fear-inducing results music and other theatrical efforts drawn from beloved singing competition series “American Idol,” the atmosphere was tense.
Not a moment too soon, one of the show’s hosts relieved the contestants of their stress.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your new Ole Miss Idol and the recipient of the grand prize is contestant number six, Lera Winders!”
With a smile stretching ear-to-ear, junior elementary education major and vocal talent Lera Winders stepped onto the stage to accept her new title of 2023 Ole Miss Idol.
Winders shared that music has been an integral part of her personality for years. The belter spent her junior high and high school years participating in various musical productions. Between her experience with music and her passion for singing, she knew that Ole Miss Idol would be a fun opportunity.
“I love music. It has always been my passion to sing. It’s so much fun and I enjoy it, so I said why not enter the competition,” Winders said.
In addition to being named this year’s Ole Miss Idol, Winders also received a prize of $500 that was dispensed into her bursar account.
The Amory, Miss. native cracked a joke on how she would be spending her earnings.
“The money will probably go towards my student loans, to be honest,” Winders said.
Winders and the six other contestants performed in front of a trio of judges – Ford Center Director Julia Aubrey, violinist and musician Jiwon Lee and the winner of Ole Miss Idol 2021, Jonathan Sengsiry.
Sengsiry, a senior integrated marketing communications major from Biloxi, Miss., praised Winders’ performance of “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele.
“I thought Lera was amazing,” Sengsiry said. “She was probably one of the only contestants who I couldn’t feel the jitters from when she was up on stage. She got up there with confidence, she wore a pretty rockin’ outfit, she looked really good doing it and it was just a fun time. I’m really happy that she took home the gold.”
Freshman business administration student Rhett Gatlin also competed in the contest. Sengsiry praised the finalist’s performance of “Dancing on My Own” by Calum Scott. The judge thinks that Gatlin could be a force to reckon with after a little more practice.
“I think if he built his confidence a little bit more, he could be something great.” Sengsiry said. “His voice was super smooth, super silky like butter.”
Singer-songwriter and senior Spanish major Yasmine Anderson also received praise from the judge after her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.”
“I’ve had the honor of seeing her perform around town, too,” Sengsiry said. “It was really cool seeing her in that environment as well because she sang Whitney Houston, which is something totally separate from the sound I’m used to hearing her sing.”
Other finalists included junior social work major Lauren Johnon, Russian native and graduate student Olga Ponomareva, sophomore business entrepreneurship major Sabrina Walers and senior geological engineering major Cody Yoder, who performed an original song.
Sengsiry offered some advice to future Ole Miss Idol contestants.
“Practice in the mirror, look at your face, make sure you’re not pacing around or showing your nerves because my first year, I thought it was all about the vocals, but they do take stage presence into account,” Sengsiry said. “Make sure you go up there with utmost confidence and own the stage anytime you’re up there.”