Students shuffled into Laurie Auditorium and took their seats, anticipating the start of the show’s events. Curtains opened to reveal the talents of gifted performers. Spotlight — Trinity’s annual talent show, coordinated by Student Programming Board — was underway.
Of the talent revealed on the evening of March 23, junior Kenneth Kusima seemed to be a cut above the rest. His rendition of Sam Smith’s pop hit “Too Good at Goodbyes” wowed the judges, winning him first place in the individual performer category.
Kusima was surprised when he learned he won first place.
“I didn’t expect to win because I did hear a lot of people who I thought were exceptional. But I guess the judges saw something that I didn’t, and I’m still very grateful for that,” Kusima said.
Twyla Hough, Spotlight judge and director of Career Services, was impressed by Kusima’s talents.
“His voice was amazing — smooth, clear and dynamic. It was the sound one would expect to hear from a professional recording artist,” Hough wrote in an email interview.
Meghan Desai, assistant traditions chair for Student Programming Board, found Kusima’s performance powerful.
“His voice captivated the whole auditorium. It was an incredible performance and he truly is a deserving winner,” Desai said.
“I hadn’t been performing for a while and I kind of missed it,” Kusima said.
Kusima has been singing since he was a child. He used to listen to his dad’s old country music, including Don Williams and Kenny Rogers, and felt impelled to sing along.
“No one in my family really sings at all, so I kind of wanted to continue singing and make it a thing starting from middle school,” Kusima said.
In middle school, Kusima performed for the first time. He found the experience rewarding.
“I was asked to be in a performance that our school organized for an end of the year celebration, and I did that and really enjoyed it,” Kusima said. “I got great feedback and I kept on doing those kinds of events at school.”
Kusima has performed at Trinity University in Spotlight, Trinity Idol and Mocha Life. While he mainly covers songs, he used to write his own original pieces. That’s how he won Trinity Idol — with an original song.
As a chemical engineering student, Kusima is used to thinking technically and problem-solving. In music, the absence of a problem to solve is what attracts him.
“Performing really does provide for me a new sense of freedom, in a way,” Kusima said. “Because in engineering, for example, you have all these constraints when you’re trying to solve a problem. But, when it comes to singing, I have absolutely no constraints. I can go in whatever direction I want. I can be as crazy as I want, and to my surprise, a lot of people think it sounds good, so it’s a win-win.”
Though Kusima loves to sing, most of Kusima’s experiences with singing have been solely for fun. While Kusima’s friends encourage him to take his talents to the music industry and try out for a music competition, he would rather appreciate music in a more down-to-earth way.
“Deep down, I feel like if I were to do [a show like American Idol], I would not fit in. I tend to think of those competitions as people who take singing as, not just for fun, but part of an industry,” Kusima said. “I hate to think of music as part of an industry, but more of an expression or a way to escape.”
Kusima anticipates that he will be performing in Spotlight next year.
“[Singing] is a way for me to be the best version of myself,” Kusima said.